Answers sought to claims of murder by British Intelligence

20 February 2000

The family of a Belfast schoolgirl befriended by US President Bill Clinton has written to Northern Secretary Peter Mandelson demanding a response to claims that her father was murdered at the instigation of British military intelligence. Patrick Hamill, 29, was shot dead by two UDA gunmen in September 1987. His daughter, Cathy, became an international symbol for the peace process when she read a welcoming message to President Clinton at Mackie's factory in November 1995. She captured the hearts of millions by expressing her longing for peace and explaining how the day her father was murdered was the saddest in her life.

A book published in December 1999, however, quotes former soldiers claiming that her father, Patrick Hamill, was targeted by the UDA at the request of a secret unit of the British Army. The book also claims the murder was sanctioned at the highest political level in London, although both the RUC and his family say Hamill had no political or paramilitary connections when he was shot dead at his home in Forfar Street, west Belfast. At an inquest, the RUC detective leading the investigation said Hamill was "most definitely not" a member of any paramilitary organisation. The book, however, claims the UDA was given his photograph by the British army.

In their letter to Mandelson, the members of the Hamill family ask how the "Force Research Unit" was able to pass on his photograph and personal details contained on a military "P" card, to the UDA assassins. They also ask:

"Why was there a failure by the security forces to act and prevent the murder of Patrick Hamill? Why was he not warned his life was in danger? Why did it take the RUC 50 minutes to respond to a 999 call?"

The book, Ten Thirty Three, the Inside Story of Britain's Secret Killing Machine in Northern Ireland, by journalist Nicholas Davies, quotes two former soldiers telling how they gave the information used to kill Hamill to British army double-agent, Brian Nelson. Nelson was also the UDA's chief intelligence officer and worked hand-in-glove with his handlers in the FRU of the British army, setting up the assassination of dozens of Nationalists. He would later accept a plea bargain deal on murder charges, reducing them to charges of conspiracy to murder and preventing the public from hearing his court testimony detailing his activities as a paid British agent/UDA intelligence officer, responsible for targeting victims. The deal was authorised by the British Attorney General at the time, Sir Patrick Mayhew, who was legally represented in the court by the now High Court judge, Brian Kerr. Mayhew was in the audience at Mackie's when Cathy Hamill read her message to Clinton.

Nelson, the most important loyalist agent the FRU had handled in the ten years of its existence, was even taken by them on a drive through west Belfast, past Hamill's house. According to Davies it was "not surprising" that there were no RUC or army patrols in the area at the time nor that it took 50 minutes to respond to the 999 distress call.

In November 1995, Cathy Hamill was chosen by her school to greet President Clinton. She read a message to him at Mackie's:

"My first daddy died in the Troubles. It was the saddest day of my life. "I still think of him. Now it is nice and peaceful. I like having peace and quiet for a change, instead of people shooting and killing. My Christmas wish is that peace and love will last in Ireland forever."

The Hamill family is now determined that a lot more will be said about the murder of Cathy's father.