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Uncovering the truth is still proving elusive


Lawyer Rosemary Nelson was killed when a bomb exploded under her car in 1999

Lawyer Rosemary Nelson was killed when a bomb exploded under her car in 1999

Paul Faith

Lawyer Rosemary Nelson was killed when a bomb exploded under her car in 1999

There are still questions after the report of the Nelson Inquiry.

Yes, Secretary of State Owen Paterson told the House of Commons yesterday that those "looking for evidence that the state conspired in, or planned, the death of Rosemary Nelson will not find it in this report." But they will find information that makes disturbing reading: the inquiry "cannot exclude the possibility" that a rogue member, or members, of the security forces in some way assisted the murderers to target the solicitor.

Then there is the line that some members of the RUC publicly abused and assaulted Rosemary Nelson on the Garvaghy Road in Portadown in 1997 - "having the effect of legitimising her as a target."

There were omissions, or failures, by state agencies "which rendered Rosemary Nelson more at risk and more vulnerable." And there is a reference to "some leakage of intelligence" that increased the danger to Rosemary Nelson's life.

I remember, in 1999, the news coming in of the bomb-explosion that killed her, and then, hours later, the claim of responsibility.

Loyalists saw the solicitor as a hate figure; saw her as part of the Drumcree problem. In her work, she represented the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition - the group that was the face and voice of nationalist opposition to that Orange march through a predominantly Catholic area of Portadown.

I remember seeing her on the Garvaghy Road on a Saturday night in July 1997, just hours before the police, the then RUC, moved into the area to clear a route for the Orangemen. This is the policing operation during which, the inquiry report says, the solicitor was "publicly abused and assaulted."

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The whole operation was a PR disaster for policing and the Drumcree march has not been allowed to enter into that Catholic part of Portadown since.

In the poisonous atmosphere of conflict and confrontation, that was the story - not just of that Drumcree stand-off, but of others. People lost their lives - innocent people, some of them very young.

Loyalist paramilitaries always played in the background of these marching rows. And those loyalists were targeting Rosemary Nelson.

They saw her outside the Drumcree frame; saw her representing IRA suspects, including Colin Duffy. She was always a potential target. And, clearly, more could have been done to protect her.

That day in March 1999, when the bomb exploded under her car, was the deadly confirmation of the threat, but it was too late.

The claim of responsibility was issued in the name of the Red Hand Defenders, but it was not believed - or believable. This group was not capable of such an attack.

I remember the codewords it used; the words used to authenticate the communication. The caller gave the word 'Boomerang' and said it was being changed to 'Pale Horse'.

And, I remember speaking to the then Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the next morning when he told me he was bringing in an outside officer to head the investigation and he was seeking expert help from the FBI.

The RUC and the Northern Ireland Office knew there was going to be fallout and questions; questions about who killed Rosemary Nelson and why, and questions about how seriously, or otherwise, earlier reported threats had been examined and assessed.

Rosemary Nelson was not killed by the Red Hand Defenders. That title and the codewords used were all part of a play to try to hide the real killers.

A month after the bomb, a police source gave me the names of those suspected of placing the device. They were members of the Loyalist Volunteer Force; names I recognised.

Later, I would be given the name of the bomb-maker; a freelance in the loyalist world who offered his knowledge and expertise not just to the LVF, but the UDA also.

And on May 27, 1999, I reported this information across the BBC's news outlets. The LVF responded within 24 hours with a statement that was designed to threaten.

My report was described as 'scurrilous' and the statement demanded a retraction and the naming of the sources who had provided me with the information.

The LVF was supposedly on ceasefire; it had decommissioned a small number of weapons and some of its prisoners had been given early release. And, now, the organisation had been linked to murder.

It ended its statement on my news report on a sinister note: 'Any actions deemed necessary by true loyalists shall be well thought-through and decisive.'

Evidence given to the Rosemary Nelson inquiry many years later confirmed the accuracy of the information I received in 1999.

It had not taken long for the intelligence world to identify the bomb-maker and those who placed the device, but no one has been charged - something the Secretary of State yesterday described as "deeply regrettable."

It will take time to read in fine detail the report of the Nelson Inquiry, but in these jigsaws there are always missing pieces.

There are stories in the 'dirty war' that have been buried. And, so, there will always be questions about Rosemary Nelson, about Pat Finucane and about hundreds of other killings. After war, none of the players will make it easy to find their ugly truths.

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