Testimony of Diane Hamill to the US Congress House International Relations Committee

I cannot begin this testimony without paying tribute to a woman who through her commitment to truth and justice has given me strength to carry on this campaign for justice for my brother, that lady is Rosemary Nelson. Rosemary was murdered because she dared to speak for those of us who felt we were alone without a voice. Her killers must be brought to justice and her murder investigated without influence of the RUC a police force that saw her voice as the enemy.

I will now proceed with my testimony.

I am black, I live in Alabama and the year is 1962. Please remember this statement as I explain what has happened to my family.

The father of two boys and soon to become the proud father of a beautiful baby girl which he was never to hold. That was my brother Robert, a man who was refused the right to life simply because he was a Catholic. We come from Portadown in Co. Armagh in the North of Ireland. Portadown is a staunchly Loyalist town, a town in which Catholics aren’t welcome. A town in which I walk around with my whole body tensed, bracing myself for a blow from behind because they know that I belong to Robert Hamill’s family, a family who refuse to accept his murder as just one of those things that happen to Catholics in the North of Ireland.

It was April 27th 1997. Robert was out for the night in a Catholic Social Club in the centre of Portadown, he was with two of my cousins, Siobhan and Joanne and Joanne’s husband Gregory. They left the club sometime after 1am, they telephoned for a taxi but there were none available so they decided to walk the short distance home. Their short journey took them through Portadown town centre, they walked down Thomas Street and only had to cross one street, Market Street and they would have been in Woodhouse Street, they would have been safe in their area. Anyone seen walking in this direction was easily identifiable as a Catholic. As the group walked down Thomas Street they could see a small group of young men loitering around the bottom of Thomas Street, at this time of the night they could only have been Loyalists. They hesitated as to whether they should proceed but unfortunately they saw our local police known as the RUC parked in one of their armoured landrovers at the top of Woodhouse Street, my brothers and cousins felt they would be protected by the RUC if necessary, this was not the case.

According to my cousins, Robert and Gregory were slightly in front of Joanne and Siobhan, as Robert and Gregory stepped onto the road approximately 20 yards from the RUC, they were pulled away from the girls and beaten to the ground by up to 30 Loyalists.

Where they were kicked repeatedly, for some reason they concentrated on Robert, we think they hit him over the head with a bottle and he was knocked unconscious straight away because my cousins say he didn’t put up any form of defence. As he lay on the ground and as the attackers jumped on his head my cousins heard them shout, "die you Fenian bastard die" and "kill him, kill him". The attack went on for some minutes we don’t know exactly how long but we do know that four fully armed and trained police officers sat in theur armoured landrover parked some 20 yards away and didn’t intervene in any way to protect or save Robert’s life. The crowd of murderers actually got fed up as he lay unconscious and decided to stand around him, still the RUC did not intervene even to administer first aid to Robert as he lay gasping for breath. As the ambulance arrived then the RUC officers got out of their vehicle. My brother was taken to hospital where he suffered in a state of semi-consciousness for twelve days constantly prespiring, moaning in pain and thrashing around. Robert died from his head injuries on the 8th of May 1997.

In Portadown it doesn’t appear to be a crime to beat and kick a man unconscious if he is a Catholic. This is the impression I have because nothing was done about the attack on my brother until he died. No one was arrested until he died. A crime scene was not created and evidence wasn’t gathered, thus diminishing any chances of convicting the murderers.

Something the RUC did do was issue conflicting press statements.

(For RUC statements, see Robert Hamill case on the Pat Finucane Centre’s website.)

If you look at these releases you will find them contradictory and untruthful in that they first describe a clash between rival factions, it was eleven days after the attack before they admitted that the four innocent Catholics had been set upon by a large crowd, one wonders how it took them so long. Robert died before they referred to the attack as sectarian. The RUC from day one were making desperate attempts to distance themselves from any blame for what has happened to Robert when in effect they were as much to blame as the men who viciously kicked Robert to death. The RUC has a duty to protect and serve all sections of the community in the North of Ireland, they chose not to do so on the night of April 27 1997.

We have since spoken to a man who told us that he had left St. Patrick’s Hall some minutes before Robert and my cousins had seen the crowd of Loyalists gathering approached the RUC landrover to warn them of the potential danger for Catholics coming out of St. Patrick’s. The RUC did not warn the patrons of St. Patrick’s of the presence of between 30-50 Loyalists who on previous experience posed a significant threat to Catholics. They didn’t warn the small group of four as they walked into a fatal attack. They didn’t try to disperse the crowd that had gathered, they didn’t try to prevent the attack or intervene during the attack to assist Robert. In their press statements the RUC claim they were outnumbered, why hadn’t they foreseen the situation and had more officers on the ground, Portadown RUC Station is some 250 yards from where my brother was kicked to death.

No one was arrested and charged until Robert lost his fight for life, five men, Stacey Bridgett, Wayne Lunt, Dean Forbes, Allistair Hanvey and Mark Hobson, were charged with murder on the 10th May. Rory Robinson was also charged the following day. Dean Forbes, Allistair Hanvey and Rory Robinson were released from person on 31st October 1997 due to lack of evidence and witnesses no longer willing to give evidence against them, according to the RUC. The judge who released them expressed sympathy with them for the ordeal they had undergone. Stacey Bridgett and Wayne Lunt were released within weeks of the first three. If the RUC had investigated as an unsectarian police force should have, this would not have happened. We had faint hope that the one remaining suspect would be convicted successfully, our hope was in vain.

The trial of Mark Hobson took place from 22nd February – 25th February 1999. The evidence the RUC produced against Hobson consisted of the eye witness statement of Constable Alan Neill, one of the officers in the landrover. In his evidence Constable Neill described a man similar to Hobson standing at the head and shoulders of Robert, shouting at him as he lay on the ground. He saw him swing his foot towards Robert’s head but he said he could not see whether the foot struck Robert or not. My family was informed of this slim evidence almost two years ago, we knew there would not be a conviction for Robert’s murder.

During the trial may points were addressed, but during his judgement, the judge referred to only a few, he stated he stated he was unable to resolve the question whether the officers remained in the landrover during the attack. He also commented on whether the officers had failed to anticipate the attack in the event there was any preparation or assembly before it. Judge McCollum also felt it necessary to comment on three further points:

  •  Firstly, in reference to the man who approached the landrover prior to the attack to warn the RUC of potential danger to Catholics coming out of St. Patrick’s, the Judge felt the officers showed no interest in the significance of his messages.
  •  Secondly, the RUC landrover was placed in a position where apparently none of the officers had a view of the junction of Thomas Street and Market Street.
  •  Thirdly, when Constable Halley, who arrived as reinforcement, was approached by a witness to the attack and informed that the man she had just let out of the back of the landrover was one of Robert’s attackers she did not follow it up or present the facts to the officers investigating Robert’s murder.

These points addressed by the trial Judge add weight to the necessity to have a totally independent inquiry into the events surrounding Robert’s murder and the inadequate and ineffective attempts to investigate it by the RUC. Serious questions should also be asked of the RUC’s attitude to Catholics.

Soon after Robert was murdered my family became the object of much harassment in Portadown both from Loyalists and from members of the RUC.

At the point where Robert was attacked we placed flowers in memory of Robert but within hours of them being placed there, every petal would have disappeared. It was as if they didn’t want to be reminded of what had happened, or they were afraid of the memory of a man who was murdered because he was the wrong religion in a town where it is a danger to be a Catholic. We stopped placing flowers at the spot because it was breaking my mother’s heart to think that people in the town where her son was murdered wouldn’t even let her publicly remember him. We didn’t need flowers. July 13th 19997, I was in Portadown centre to get money out of a bank machine, I was with my boyfriend who had told me to stay some 100 yards away from Market Street, he was away for a short period but I was worried so I decided to walk to where he was, as I approached the spot where Robert was attacked I noticed some flowers where we used to place them, there was no one in the town so I approached them thinking some kind person had put them there in memory of Robert. There was a card beside the flowers and it read "for the Portadown six heroes". I won’t try to describe how I felt but just let you know that as I have said it was July 134th and thousands of Orange Men and their supporters had passed that spot and no one felt the need to remove this card.

Regularly my family members have been taunted in Portadown town centre. I have been called a Fenian slut and men and women have shouted "where is Robbie now". I wouldn’t want to be inside the minds of these people, lit must be a very frightening place. On occasions some Loyalists have taken to jumping up and down in front of me, this is their imitation of Robert’s murder; this is funny to them. In the early stages I called the RUC on several occasions following incidents of this nature but they never did anything about it. After awhile I decided it was pointless calling the police for assistance, we now have no one to turn to. The taunt of "what about Robbie Hamill" has now become commonplace around Portadown when Catholics are being abused this doesn’t appear to be a crime either. As recently as four days ago we discovered some graffiti saying "where is our Robbie now, where is ya flowers now". My family made an official complaint against the RUC officers in the landrover whom by their inaction collaborated in Robert’s murder, none of these officers has ever been suspended from duty, disciplined or charged. We collected 20,000 signatures on a petition calling for the suspension of the officers and for British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Marjorie Mowlan in November 1997. It was a fruitless effort, as the British government appears to have accepted the RUC’s untrue version of events without question.

After publicly challenging the RIC about their failure to protect Robert or guarantee his right to life, we weren’t very popular with them.

RUC vehicles drove past members of my family and beeped their horns for no reason, they would stare at some of the younger members of my family intimidating them and making them feel frightened. I observed as RUC personnel drove up to where my brother Martin was talking to a friend, they parked within two yards of him and stared at him to provoke a reaction. He did not respond. On another occasion two landrovers parked across the street from where Martin was talking to a few friends, the officers got out of their vehicles, eight officers in all, wearing riot gear and at least two carrying plastic bullet guns which have been responsible for the deaths of 17 people in the North, they lined up some twenty yards away from my brother and his friends in a deliberate attempt to cause disturbance. The boys did not respond. As my brother walked along a footbridge in the local public park a landrover drove past him and drove against his leg. Martin did not respond.

I myself have been the object of some unwanted attention by the RUC. I have found myself going into a hairdressers and a fully armed and uniformed officer came in after me "to have a hair cut". After coming out of the take-away one night in a village outside Portadown I found a care with RUC officers inside had parked their vehicles nose to nose with mine, as they pulled off they pointed at me in such a way as to imitate a gun.

In Portadown I was waiting at a set of traffic lights, my mother and youngest brother were in my car, an RUC vehicle was also waiting to my right, as the traffic lights turned green I went to pull off as did the RUC vehicle but they decided to swerve their vehicle to the left and towards me, I had to break suddenly to avoid a collision.

I never had any dealings with the RUC before the murder of my brother. I never had much of an opinion on them probably as I had spent the five years previous to Robert’s murder living in London, but since the tragic loss of Robert I have been on the receiving end of how they treat a Catholic who refuses to accept their impunity, their apparent invincibility and lack of accountability to any one except themselves.

I have several questions I would like answered.

  1.  Why was a crowd of up to 50 Loyalists allowed to gather in an area that is known as a flash pointy for attack on Catholics?
  2.  Why wasn’t the management of St. Patrick’s Hall informed by the RUC of the potential danger to patrons going home?
  3.  Why weren’t Robert and my cousins who were obviously Catholics warned and stopped from walking into a gang of murderers?
  4.  Why did the Loyalists feel safe to get away with murder within twenty yards of four armed RUC officers in a military jeep?
  5.  Why didn’t the RUC intervene to prevent the attack?
  6.  Why didn’t the RUC intervene during the attack to protect Robert?
  7.  Why didn’t the RUC fire a single bullet into the air to disperse the attackers?
  8.  Why didn’t the RUC administer any first aid to Robert as he lay on the road gasping for life?
  9.  Why wasn’t the crowd moved away from Robert to allow the ambulance easy access to Robert and Gregory?
  10. Why wasn’t anyone arrested on the night of the attack?
  11. Why wasn’t a crime scene created?
  12. Why wasn’t any forensic evidence collected?
  13. Why do the RUC claim that there is no video evidence when there are four banks/building societies with cameras in the area?
  14. Why was one of the attackers put in the jeep and them released?

I have many more questions I would like the answers to. I don’t have enough time to go through them all. The cost of publicity challenging the RUC is grave. They failed in their duty to protect my brother’s life. When we asked why we have been intimidated and harassed. We have no remedy.

I feel the RUC as it stands today issectraian and totally unacceptable in a modern society. I want a police force I can call upon when I need to but more especially I want a police force that will protect me and not leave me to be murdered because I am a Catholic.

I am not black, I don not live in Alabama and the year is not 1962 but you tell the difference.