Anne Cadwallader, Ireland on Sunday | 03 September 2000
Inside the Oval Office, the President was stunned. He breathed a heavy sigh and lifted his hands to his head. Perhaps for the first time, he was beginning to come to terms with the depths of cynicism felt by Irish nationalists for the "forces of law and order". The Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, had just told Bill Clinton of new evidence. Evidence that the father of the cherubic little Belfast girl he had taken to his heart - and his home - had been murdered at the instigation of British military intelligence. Little Cathy Hamill became an instant icon of the peace process when, aged just eight, she solemnly read out before a television audience of millions a welcoming message for Bill and Hillary Clinton at Mackies factory in November 1995. She captured everyone's heart by explaining that the day her father was murdered was the saddest day of her life. Clinton referred to her over and over again in speeches about the peace process. Her family were invited to the White House in Washington by the Clintons the following Christmas.When Adams told him there was evidence her father was killed with the aid and assistance of the British Army and RUC, it hit Clinton hard. He was, apparently, speechless for a few minutes, taking in the news.
It's now understood the Stevens investigation, looking into the murder of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane, has re-opened the file on Cathy's father, Patrick, who was 29 when he was shot down by a UDA gang in September 1987. Laura Hamill, his widow, has decided to sue the British Ministry of Defence, citing its involvement in the murder of her husband.
"I want to get to the truth and, like so many others before me, this is the only avenue open to me"
The same gun used to kill Patrick Hamill was also used to kill Francisco Notorantonio, murdered by the UDA early one morning the following month. A 66-year-old father of 11 children, he was a former taxi driver and was killed as he lay in bed.
The Notorantonio and Hamill files are two of more than twenty files now being re-opened by the Stevens team. The question is now being asked, however, is if the Stevens team are capable of investigating such a large number of cases, where collusion between British forces and the UDA remains a central link? In both the Hamill and Notorantonio cases, British Army/UDA double-agent Brian Nelson was used to plan and execute the murders. The RUC Special Branch, MI5, the "Force Research Unit" (FRU) and the Joint Intelligence Committee, answerable to Downing Street, were all aware of the assassination plans.
The FRU was a 180-member group, set up in 1979, to gather intelligence on republicans. Not all their victims, whom they killed using the gunpower of the notoriously sectarian "C" Company of the UDA on the Shankill Road (Johnny Adair's mob) were active republicans, however.
Although Notorantonio had been a republican in the 1940's, he had long given up any active involvement. Hamill was totally uninvolved with no IRA connections, as confirmed at his inquest by the RUC.
Mark Thompson, of Relatives for Justice, says the Stevens team have taken on far more than they can handle. His group has a long-standing demand for a full public inquiry into all deaths allegedly resulting from collusion between the RUC/British Army and loyalist groups.
"As well as wanting to know the truth about all these deaths, we want an investigation into how the loyalists were armed. Two hundred and twenty nine people were shot with weapons imported into the North from South Africa with the help of British Army double-agent Brian Nelson. The British were aware of his mission to South Africa and knew the arms were coming in. One of those guns that was used, for example, at Greysteel. The gunman reloaded it, twice. The victims of that massacre also need to know who was responsible for arming the UDA".
In December 1999, a book which - ironically - is highly complimentary of the RUC and British Army undercover forces (it refers to them as the "unsung heroes" who have shown "discipline, patience, fortitude and understanding") revealed details of how Hamill's murder was planned. The book is named after Brian Nelson's code number, 10:33, and claims the Hamill murder was sanctioned at the highest political level in London, although the RUC and his family say he 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 a letter to the Northern Secretary, Peter Mandelson, in February this year, the Hamill family asked how the FRU were 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, setting up the assassinations of dozens of nationalists. He would later accept a plea bargain deal on murder charges, reducing them to conspiracy to murder and preventing the public from hearing in court about his activities as a paid British agent responsible for targeting victims. That deal was authorised by the British attorney general of the time, Sir Patrick Mayhew, who was legally represented in court by the now High Court judge, Brian Kerr.
Mayhew was in the audience at Mackies when Cathy Hamill read her message to Clinton. One wonders what thoughts were passing through his mind when she rose to make her speech.
"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".
President Clinton responded:
"This is one of those occasions where I really think that all that needs to be said has been said already".
When Gerry Adams told him in the White House there was evidence that much more needs to be said about Patrick Hamill's murder, maybe the President began to feel the Hamill family's grief and anger.