31/01/2011

Prosecutions See Hamill Inquiry 'Parked'

The controversial inquiry into how police handled the sectarian murder of Robert Hamill has been put on the 'back burner'.

The NI Secretary of State Owen Paterson (pictured) said today that the public inquiry's report, which was expected to be released within weeks, had to be shelved following the recent decision to proceed with prosecutions against three people, including a former police officer, in connection with the case.

Mr Hamill, 25, was beaten to death by a loyalist mob in the predominantly Protestant town of Portadown, Co Armagh, in 1997 as he walked home after a night out with friends.

Controversy has focused on allegations that RUC men at the scene failed to intervene to prevent the attack and theysubsequently mishandled the investigation.

No one has been convicted of the murder of the father-of-three.

Responding to the statement, a spokesperson for the Inquiry said: "The Inquiry is completely content with the statement that the Secretary of State has made to the Commons today, and considers this to be the best way forward.

"The publication arrangements are as set out in the Secretary of State's statement. The Inquiry intends to complete its report by the end of February," the statement concluded.

Mr Paterson said the man's family had already agreed to the delay under the circumstances.

His statement at Westminster said: "The House will be aware of the announcement made by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) on December 21, 2010.

"In that statement, the PPS confirmed that, following a review of all the available evidence including that given to the Hamill Tribunal, it concluded that the test for prosecution is met in respect of two persons for an offence of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and one person for an offence of doing an act with intent to pervert the course of justice.

"As I informed the House in my written statement of December 16, 2010, the Hamill Inquiry intends to complete its report by the end of February.
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"It remains my intention to publish the report as soon as practicable, but in light of the legal proceedings against these three individuals, I have decided not to publish the inquiry's report until the legal proceedings have concluded; to do so would certainly jeopardise these individuals' right to a fair trial.

"I understand from the inquiry that it is also the family's wish that the legal proceedings are not prejudiced by the publication of the report. In the meantime, I am exploring ways of ensuring that the report is safely and securely stored between its completion and its publication.

"Once the legal proceedings have concluded and the inquiry's report is delivered to me, I am responsible for its publication. In anticipation of this, I have asked a small team of officials to commence the checking of the inquiry's report in relation to human rights and national security matters," he said, noting that, under human rights legislation, he was obliged to carry out a review of the inquiry's report.

"I intend to adopt the same approach as was used for the checking of the reports of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry and the Billy Wright Inquiry," he explained.

"I am advised that I have a duty, as a public authority under the Human Rights Act, to act in a way that is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

"To fulfil this duty, I need to take steps to satisfy myself that publication of the report will not breach Article 2 of the Convention by putting lives or safety of individuals at risk.

"I am advised that these obligations must be met by me personally, in my capacity as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

"Although the Inquiry is also a public authority under the Human Rights Act, I am not entitled to rely on the Inquiry to satisfy my Article 2 obligations and I have a duty to assess this myself.

"I also have a duty to satisfy myself that publication will not put national security at risk, for example by disclosing details of sources of protected information," he told MPs.

"It is not possible to estimate how long the legal proceedings against the three individuals will take.

"I assure the House that once they have concluded, I intend to publish the report as soon as possible.

"Once a timetable for publication becomes clear, I will update the House accordingly," he said.

(BMcC/GK)

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