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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 April, 2005, 14:19 GMT 15:19 UK
Inquiry into Nelson murder opens
The Rosemary Nelson murder scene in Lurgan
The solicitor died after a booby-trap bomb attack on her car
An inquiry into the murder of Northern Ireland solicitor Rosemary Nelson has opened in County Armagh.

Mrs Nelson died after loyalists planted a booby-trap bomb underneath her car outside her Lurgan home in March 1999.

Retired judge Sir Michael Morland is chairing a three-strong panel examining alleged security force collusion. It will hear evidence next spring.

One of the Nelson family's solicitors, Barra McGrory, said it had been "a long road" for the family.

"We will give it every cooperation, and we sincerely hope that it will succeed in its clear and stated intention to get to the truth of the full circumstances of Rosemary's murder - we certainly wish it well," he said.

Sir Michael made an opening statement to the inquiry outlining how it would be conducted.

Sir Michael and his colleagues - ex-chief constable of South Wales Sir Anthony Burden and Dame Valerie Strachan, former chair of the board of Customs and Excise - will examine allegations that police ignored death threats against Mrs Nelson.

WHO WAS ROSEMARY NELSON?
Rosemary Nelson
A Catholic solicitor who came to prominence representing high profile cases
These included working for the nationalist Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition in the dispute with Orangemen over Drumcree
The 40-year-old mother-of-three was killed in a booby-trap car bomb near her home on 15 March 1999
A splinter loyalist group, the Red Hand Defenders, said it carried out the murder

The inquiry began on Tuesday at Craigavon Civic Centre.

Sir Michael said he expected more than 100 witnesses would be called and said the inquiry was pursuing documentation from a number of individuals and organisation.

He stressed the inquiry would be "completely independent" of the government.

"Decisions as to the work of the inquiry will be ours and ours alone," Sir Michael said.

He said the inquiry will be public, but in a small number of cases, witnesses may give evidence anonymously and parts of some documents may be blacked out.

However, this would be the exception rather than the rule, he added.

Sir Michael said that while much emotion and political debate surrounded the killing "it would be all too easy to forget that Rosemary Nelson's murder was first and foremost a terrible loss to her family".

He said the inquiry's task was to seek out the truth.

Afterwards, Mrs Nelson's brother, Eunan Magee, said there was a "long and arduous journey ahead, so we'll adopt a wait-and-see approach".

Mrs Nelson's murder was carried out by the Red Hand Defenders, which is a cover name for the Ulster Defence Association and Loyalist Volunteer Force.

The government agreed to set up an inquiry into Mrs Nelson's death following the recommendations of retired Canadian Judge Peter Cory.

INQUIRY TERMS OF REFERENCE
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.

He was appointed by the British and Irish governments in 2001 and has delivered six reports to the London and Dublin administrations about a total of eight killings on both sides of the border.

Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy has extended the Nelson inquiry's terms of reference at the panel's request.

In the initial stages, administrative and legal staff will spend several months checking law and analysing all existing police investigation files.

The inquiry is the first of four due to be held in Northern Ireland. A fifth inquiry will be held in the Irish Republic.

Mrs Nelson came to public prominence as a solicitor representing Catholic residents of Portadown embroiled in the dispute over the Orange Drumcree parade.

The three-strong panel in the Rosemary Nelson inquiry
The three-strong panel is examining collusion allegations

The mother of three had alleged that she had received death threats from members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Her family says that the threats came because of her willingness to speak publicly about alleged sectarianism among the security forces and collusion with loyalist paramilitaries.

Her death came two weeks before she had been expected to meet a police watchdog about the alleged death threats.

There have been allegations of security force collusion in the killing of the 40-year-old solicitor because of her role as the legal representative for the nationalist Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition and other high profile cases.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Archive footage of the murder scene



SEE ALSO:
'Past haunts the peace process'
19 Apr 05 |  Northern Ireland
A lawyer with high-profile clients
19 Apr 05 |  Northern Ireland
Inquiries into 'collusion' murders
01 Apr 04 |  Northern Ireland
Unresolved deaths: A question of collusion?
02 Aug 01 |  Northern Ireland


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