The Dirty War

Rosemary Nelson

Rosemary Nelson was a human rights lawyer in Lurgan, County Armagh, who was killed when a bomb exploded under her car as she left her home on 15 March 1999. The Red Hand Defenders claimed responsibility for the bomb. Forty years old at the time of her death, Ms Nelson was married with three children.

She worked for clients on both sides of the community in Northern Ireland. She had won great respect from the Nationalist community in the North for her work with the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition.

There are a number of similarities between Ms Nelson's case and that of murdered Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in February 1989. Both were high profile, successful lawyers in their own areas and both had received threats from the RUC through their clients. In both cases, there is concern amongst human rights campaigners, the media, the legal profession and the families of the victims, that the inquiries into their deaths are not independent.

In light of the death of Pat Finucane, Ms Nelson was concerned about her own safety and complained to the RUC about threats made against her. She also told a 1998 UN inquiry about the threats, and about maltreatment by the RUC when she was present at the Garvaghy Road during a standoff in July the previous year.

She said that the number of RUC threats against her had increased from this point on. "Since then my clients have reported an increasing number of incidents when I have been abused by RUC officer, including several death threats against myself and members of my family. I have also received threatening telephone calls and letters," she added.

Ms Nelson said that she had not received a satisfactory response when she complained to the RUC about the Garvaghy Road incident and the threats. She said that she deeply and bitterly resented accusations from RUC officers that she was involved in paramilitary activity.

"I believe that my role as a lawyer in defending the rights of my clients is vital. The test of a new society in Northern Ireland will be to the extent to which it can recognise and respect that role, and enable me to discharge it with without improper interference. I look forward to that day," she said.

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