Findings of inquiry into killing of solicitor published

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A public inquiry into the murder of solicitor Rosemary Nelson in Northern Ireland will today release its findings more than 12 years after she was killed in a loyalist bomb attack.

The probe has examined claims that police failed to respond to threats made against the lawyer, plus allegations that security forces may have colluded in her killing.

The 40-year-old mother of three died when a bomb exploded underneath her BMW car as she left her home in Lurgan, Co Armagh, on March 15, 1999.

Her legal practice dealt with mainly routine cases, but she rose to prominence and earned dangerous enemies after taking-on a number of high profile clients, including suspected republicans.

Jane Winter of the London-based British Irish Rights Watch group had lobbied for protection for Mrs Nelson prior to her death and said her case had major significance.

“Although every murder is dreadful, and you can’t distinguish between them, when a lawyer is murdered because of the work they do, then that has ramifications for the whole of the criminal justice system,” she said.

“A lawyer should not be identified with the clients that they represent. They are just professionals doing their job. So that’s why killing a lawyer has particular significance.

“But also in Rosemary’s case, the significance lies in the fact that those who murdered her were hoping, I think, to disrupt the peace process.

“Fortunately it didn’t have that effect, just like the Omagh bombing didn’t have that effect.

“It would have been incredibly tragic if it had, because Rosemary herself was a huge supporter of the peace process.”

Mrs Nelson’s murder came within a year of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, but it was an unstable period. As decades of violence gave-way to a new era of political negotiation, warring ideologies feared losing advantage.

The solicitor found herself representing clients whose cases placed her at the centre of some of the most controversial episodes of the period.

They included Lurgan republican Colin Duffy, who in the 1990s was acquitted of the murder of a former soldier and is currently charged over the murder of two soldiers shot dead by dissident republicans in Antrim in 2009.

Responsibility for her murder was claimed by the loyalist Red Hand Defenders, but it also sparked immediate claims of a possible security force link.