In RFJ’s submission to The Patten Commission on Policing, we recall an incident that occurred during an investigation into threats against defence lawyers by the UN Special Rapporteur on The Independence of Judges and Lawyers Mr.Param Cumaraswamy in October 1997. This incident involved the then Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan and his Assistant Chief Constable and then Head of Special Branch, Raymond White, during a meeting between the Special Rapporteur, Flanagan and White, which they stated that ‘some lawyers are working to the agenda of the paramilitaries’.
The comments so alarmed the Rapporteur and his assistant, Mr. Alan Parra, given that they were reminiscent of similar comments made by Mr. Douglas Hogg MP in the British Parliament after he was briefed by senior RUC officers in Downing St. in 1989. Within weeks of these comments being made human rights lawyer Pat Finucane was murdered. Mr. Finucane’s murder had been at the core of the Special Rapporteur’s inquiries during his visit to the North.
When the Special Rapporteur compiled his report it was first sent privately to the then Secretary of State Dr. Mo Mowlam for comment. When Dr. Mowlam contacted Ronnie Flanagan he denied the comments. However Mr. Cumaraswamy, when contacted by the British government, stood over the comments.
In separate moves Ronnie Flanagan made a number of telephone calls to Mr. Cumaraswamy directly, and to his office at the UN in Geneva further denying the comments. He was unsuccessful in having them omitted from the report. In a final bid, and a clear attempt to coerce the UN Special Rapporteur to remove the comments from the report, Ronnie Flanagan raised the matter of a number of lawyers to whom the Rapporteur also spoke during his visit and named in the report.
Flanagan told Mr.Cumaraswamy that if the comments attributed to him were not removed then he could not guarantee the safety of those lawyers named in the report.
This was an appalling statement to make by a Chief Constable and undoubtedly left the Rapporteur with a dilemma. Coupled with the initial comments about lawyers, and the background to the murder of Pat Finucane, it was to be taken very seriously. RFJ, and the lawyers involved saw it as an implicit threat. After careful consideration the Rapporteur removed the names of the lawyers but kept the comments made by Flanagan and White.
Rosemary Nelson was one of the lawyers who both instigated the UN visit and who met with the Rapporteur. She was one of the lawyers to whom Flanagan referred.
On March 15th 1999 Rosemary Nelson was murdered by loyalists when a bomb was placed under her car. Rosemary had received threats directly from RUC officers and threats were made to Rosemary via her clients whilst in RUC custody. Collusion has been evidenced in her killing by Judge Peter Cory and her killing is the subject of an on-going, yet limited inquiry.
Shortly after Rosemary’s murder John Ware from BBC London made a Panorama programme on the killing of Rosemary which raised the content of the UN report and focussed on the comments attributed to Flanagan and Raymond White. In the programme Flanagan continually denied making the comments.
During the course of the programme, John Ware for a third time, asked Flanagan if he was sure that he personally did not call the Rapporteur to have the comments removed, stating that he could not guarantee the safety of lawyers. Again Flanagan denied the comments and the telephone calls to the UN.
John Ware at this stage produced a page which he informed Flanagan was from the UN, which as a matter of practice logs and dates all the incoming calls made to the UN in Geneva. Ware informed Flanagan that the page registered a number of calls as having been made from the phone in Flanagan’s office subsequent to the report being sent to Dr. Mo Mowlam. Ronnie Flanagan turned purple, swallowed hard and there was prolonged silence. He did not dispute the evidence when further pressed by Ware, saying that he cannot recollect making the call.
He effectively had another case of convenient amnesia – which apparently reoccurred during his 4 hour interview with the Ombudsman about the activities of Mark Haddock.
In a separate development prior to Rosemary’s murder, and the Panorama programme, RFJ informed journalist Alex Thompson of these matters. He later flew to Kuala Lumpur personally to interview Mr. Cumaraswamy about the incident for Channel 4 News. Mr. Cumaraswamy, in the Channel 4 News special interview, is adamant that the comments were made.
After Rosemary’s murder Mr. Cumaraswamy made public that he had contacted the British government to raise concerns about the safety of Rosemary Nelson on several occasions and stated that he had urged the British government to take steps to protect her. Instead, the British government, on the advice of the RUC, denied Rosemary access to the Key Persons Protection Scheme, while the RUC Chief Constable at the time, Ronnie Flanagan, failed to take any disciplinary action against his officers involved in making threats to Rosemary.
Mr. Cumaraswamy said; "In the case of Rosemary Nelson I was concerned for her, for her life. I had intervened with the government about various threats. And when her murder happened, though I was very, very saddened, in many ways, I was not surprised. And the question I ask is, why wasn’t she given adequate protection?".
These are just some of the questions that Ronnie Flanagan must account for in relation to one of the hundreds of cases in which lives were taken and concerning which families affected by collusion and shoot-to-kill seek truth, justice and accountability as part of transition.
Relatives for Justice