Rosemary Nelson, mother of 3 young children, drove from her home in LurgenLurgan, a town in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, on March 15, 1999. A hundred yards from her home and down the street from her children”s school, a bomb that had been placed under her car detonated. Friends and family rushed to the wreckage to find her dying of mortal wounds which included loss of both legs and severe abdominal injuries. They tried to aid and comfort her but little else could have been done. Nelson died a few hours later after unsuccessful surgery to save her life at the age of 40. Shortly after the murder, the Red Hand Defenders, a Protestant loyalist/unionist paramilitary group not in support of the Good Friday peace accord and the cease-fire agreement, placed a call to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and claimed responsibility for the killing. Rosemary Nelson was the sole solicitor in her small legal practice in Lurgan (less than 20 miles southwest of Belfast). In her practice she crossed over the sectarian lines that divided her town and represented clients from all backgrounds in routine legal business. As a part of her local practice, she came to public prominence for representing Catholic residents of nearby Portadown in the volatile dispute over the routing of Protestant Orange Drumcree parades. She also took on a small number of other controversial cases in which she represented high profile Catholic clients including the family of Robert Hamill ” a Catholic kicked to death by a loyalist mob while Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers were nearby, and also defended leading republican Colin Duffy and overturned his conviction for murdering a soldier after it emerged that a crucial police witness was a loyalist paramilitary. It was this small percentage of Nelson”s work that led her to be target of vilification by factions of the Protestant loyalist community, and to receive threats to her clients and to herself from that community and the overwhelmingly Protestant unionist RUC. After Nelson”s death many questions emerged about the suspicious circumstances surrounding her murder. ” Did neighbor”s reports of intense amount of British Army activity around the Nelson home in the days and hours leading up to the murder have some part to play in the deployment of the bomb? ” Did the Red Hand Defenders have assistance from a more mainstream paramilitary organization(s), participating in the cease-fire? ” Was her murder it intended to disruptive the peace process by inciting counter-violence from Catholic, pro-Irish paramilitaries? ” Subsequently, was there a failure of the RUC to secure the crime scene and follow-up investigation? ” Was the attack targeted specifically against Nelson because she was a solicitor, or was it a warning to those she represented? Nelson’s murder was one of more than three thousand during the modern day Troubles that began in 1969. In the eyes of many who followed the plight of Northern Ireland, aspects of Nelson”s killing were immediately recognized as similar to those surrounding the murder of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane in 1989 (Three masked men shot him in front of his horrified family in 1989), a killing widely recognized as a result of British security force collusion. What sets Nelson”s murder case apart and adds further controversy is the refusal of the British state to protect her after her repeated reports of RUC death threats aimed at her and specific requests for protection from these threats were made known to RUC by various people and agencies, including international human rights lawyers ” and even to the US Congress and the United Nations! Denver attorney Tom Burke and others met with Nelson in 1998 and were told directly by her of threats made against her life, and at her request went to the RUC and requested protection for her. Thomas (Tom) J. Burke Jr. lives with his family in Denver, Colorado where he practices civil law for Jones & Keller, P.C. He was born and raised in Minnesota. His ancestors are immigrants from Ireland who came to Minnesota to live and raise families in the State”s first Irish settlement, Shieldsville. Influenced by his family”s Irish background the subject of Ireland became increasingly dear as he grew. While an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota he studied the history of the British Isles, with emphasis on the history of Ireland. During the late 1960″s distressing events that later became known as “The Troubles” remerged in Northern Ireland. Burke developed a life-long interest in Northern Ireland that would eventually involve him as a witness in one of the most intriguing murder cases of The Troubles. In the early to mid-1990″s Burke became a member of a couple of internet discussion groups having to do with Northern Ireland issues. Through these he learned of Ed Lynch and his New Jersey non-profit group, Lawyers Alliance for Justice in Ireland. “It was a group of lawyers who were interfacing with judicial and political authorities in Northern Ireland,” Burke said, “At that time we had about a hundred members, and it was a very active organization ” they were appearing in all of the court cases where people were being deported (Irish republican/nationalists activists), but the big thrust of the organization was going over there (Northern Ireland) and engaging and convincing them (both sides) that you would never get any peace in the form of a new government without everybody being allowed to participate” Lynch invited Burke to join the Alliance delegation to Belfast in February, 1998. Burke and the delegation arrived in Belfast mid February. The first days the delegation, in whole or in part, met with members of both sides of the divide, Particularly, but not exclusively with those of legal, political, and policing-related groups and professions in Belfast. On the evening of February 17th Burke and all of the members of his delegation met in a secluded separate dining room in the Beresford Arms in Lurgan for a private dinner with a few members of the community. One of the guests was Rosemary Nelson, and it became obvious to Burke that she was the featured person on that particular evening. During the meal Nelson stood up and introduced herself and recounted the nature of her law practice in Lurgan, which seemed for the most part a standard small-town practice. She went on to mention that she also represented people accused of offenses such as being a member of the IRA and also those allegedly involved in IRA actions. At this point there was a pregnant pause ” Nelson went on to say that she wanted the delegation to know that she had been receiving death threats from the RUC. In Burke”s estimation she recounted the fact that 4 or 5 of her clients were independently taken to Gough RUC Barracks outside of Lurgan and typically held for several days and were bruised and battered before being released, normally for a lack of evidence. When here clients were released they went to Nelson with instruction from the RUC officers to inform her that she was going to die. Looking back on the meeting with Nelson and his N.I. experiences in general, Burke offered his opinion of the climate that surrounded Nelson at the time. “It all started when she (Nelson) had a client by the name of Colin Duffy, who was suppose to have been responsible for some sort of homicide, and she represented him, took it to trial and he was acquitted. The ” all the RUC police just went nuts ” that”s when they started picking people up and bringing them up to the RUC barracks outside of Lurgan and pounding them around for a couple of days and never bring them to charge.” Adding a perspective as an American attorney he continued, “Under American law you have to arraign after you pick them up ” up there they have a week ” and a lot of stuff can get done in a week. People were given damage awards right and left ” 30,000 pounds, one of them ” they didn”t care, they would just pay it and keep on going.” As Nelson continued to stand before the delegates at the 1998 dinner, she told Burke and the delegates that she was concerned for her safety and also for that of her husband and three school-age children. She also directly asked the members of the delegation to meet with the local RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan in regards to her safety concerns and specifically requested to get on the Protected Persons Programme. Burke and other members of the delegation told Nelson that they already had a scheduled meeting with Flanagan in a couple of days and assured her that they would raise her safety concerns and request to be on the Protected Persons Programme. After Nelson sat down and the meal continued Burke, who sat one or two seats away from Nelson, had further conversation with her. She told him one particular story which took place just a couple of weeks previously that frightened her terribly. Nelson had been pushing her cart through a grocery market store in Lurgan when she noticed a large man that she believed was following her. When they got to an area where there were only two f them, he approached her and said that if she continued representing “IRA scum” she would be killed. Having grown up in Lurgan she knew many people by sight, but Nelson said that she had never seen this man before. Two days after their dinner with Nelson, Burke and some members of his delegation met with Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan at RUC Head Quarters. As promised to Nelson, members of the delegation succinctly relayed her concerns of death threats which came from RUC officers via her clients, and her concerns for her safety and her request to be placed in the Protected Persons Programme. Flanagan initially responded by moving to the topic of how difficult it was to investigate matters involving his officers, but eventually said that he would look into matters of Nelson. Almost a year later, in February 1999, Burke and a smaller LAJI delegation which including Ed Lynch returned to Belfast. They had arranged a meeting at RUC Head Quarters again with Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan to follow-up on the previous year”s conversation about the protection of Rosemary Nelson. According to Burke, Flanagan”s response, in essence was that Nelson was not entitled to any protection under the law. “He was very well aware of what was going on, but seemed resolved that he wasn”t going to do anything to protect her.” Within weeks Rosemary Nelson was murdered. By then, Burke was back in the United States. He was working in his Denver office when he heard the report on the news, followed by a call from Ed Lynch who also relayed the news. That evening at home, Burke turned on one of the American network news programs and caught a BBC report on the murder. He recalled seeing RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan commenting on camera with words essentially saying “I am only sorry we had no notice that protection was necessary.” Having been in two meetings with Flanagan in a year”s time, and having knowledge to the contrary of Flanagan”s comments, Burke was completely shocked. In reflection Burke commented, “We all took oaths as lawyers to resolve disputes not by violence but by the law ” and we didn”t advocate violence. But it”s quite another thing to say that you understand why the violence was occurring ” because basically what they (unionists) were doing was trying to squeeze any nationalist out of the new government, they just wanted to organize it so that the Catholic portion of the population wasn”t going to be a part of it ” most particularly the republicans who wanted pretty much an immediate unification with the South.” In 2001 a retired Canadian Supreme Court Judge, Peter Cory was appointed by the British and Irish governments to undertake a thorough investigation of allegations of collusion between British and Irish security forces and paramilitaries in six particular cases involving “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland which were so controversial they stood in the way of a peace agreement. One of those cases was that of Rosemary Nelson”s murder. One of the witnesses asked and who subsequently gave a statement was Tom Burke. The Cory Collusion Inquiry report was delivered by Judge Cory in October of 2003. Cory recommended inquiries including Nelson”s case. The British government agreed to set up an inquiry into Rosemary Nelson’s death following the recommendations ” and pressures ” from Judge Cory. The inquiry”s scope was, “To inquire into the death of Rosemary Nelson with a view to determining whether any wrongful act or omission by or within the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Northern Ireland Office, Army or other state agency facilitated her death or obstructed the investigation of it, or whether any such act or omission was intentional or negligent; whether the investigation of her death was carried out with due diligence; and to make recommendations.” The official opening of the Inquiry in Craigavon, Co. Armagh was in April 2005. Burke, Lynch, and Ned McGinley, then National President of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, attended the official opening. Burke, Lynch and others at the two meetings with Flanagan were summoned to New York City to give the Inquiry”s solicitors further statements in May, 2006. ” However, the the actual public hearing where British intelligence officers, police chiefs and top civil servants will be questioned to determine if authorities had a role in the murder of Nelson just opened April 15, 2008 in Belfast at the Interpointe Center in Belfast. Tom Burke has been summoned to Belfast for the Inquiry and as of this writing he is scheduled to give testimony on May 22nd. Celtic Connection, May 2008 issue Sources: Celtic Connection interview with Tom Burke; Witness statement of Thomas (Tom) Burke from Cory Inquiry; Irish Aires News; BBC; An Phoblacht; Rosemary Nelson & The Quest for Justice by James J. Brosnahan, Esq. & Dan VanDeMortel www.injusticebusters.com; www.rosemarynelsoninquiry.org/; www.breakingnews.ie; www.ireland.comhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosemary_Nelson; http://news.sky.com; www.serve.com/pfc/rosemary/rosemary.html

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