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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 April 2005, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
A lawyer with high-profile clients
Northern Ireland solicitor Rosemary Nelson came to prominence as a legal representative for many high-profile names from the nationalist and republican communities.

Rosemary Nelson
Mrs Nelson complained she had been threatened with death
The 40-year-old mother-of-three was killed by a booby-trap car bomb near her home on 15 March 1999.

Mrs Nelson lived and worked in the County Armagh town of Lurgan, dealing largely with routine legal cases which passed through the office she ran.

However, three prominent cases ensured that she was not just an ordinary provincial solicitor.

The Catholic lawyer had alleged that she had received death threats from members of the RUC - made to clients during interrogations.

At the time of her death, one of her biggest ongoing cases was providing legal advice for the Catholic residents of nearby Portadown, objecting to the annual Drumcree parade of the Protestant Orange Order passing their homes.

Sectarian tension

The stand-off over the parade was a major focus of sectarian tension which often spilled over into violence throughout Northern Ireland.

Another big case for her involved defending prominent Lurgan republican Colin Duffy, whose conviction for the murder of a soldier was overturned after it emerged that a police witness was also a leading member of the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force.

Mrs Nelson also represented the family of Robert Hamill, a 25-year-old Catholic father of two in Portadown, who died after being attacked by a large group of loyalists.

Cory report cases

Unable to find a taxi as they returned home, Mr Hamill and his friends decided to walk through the town centre because they could see Royal Ulster Constabulary officers in the area.

The controversy surrounding Mr Hamill's death comes from the fact that armed RUC officers were stationed in a Land Rover near to the scene but allegedly failed to intervene, even though witnesses say they were in a position to do so.

A public inquiry, similar to the one into Mrs Nelson's murder, will eventually take place into the killing of Mr Hamill.

Mrs Nelson had played a key role as a campaigner in contentious cases involving allegations of security forces collusion with loyalist paramilitaries.

It would turn out that her own death would prove equally controversial.

Mrs Nelson was driving away from her Lurgan home when a booby trap device ripped her car apart.

She died in hospital two hours after suffering extensive injuries in which she lost both her legs and suffered massive abdominal injuries.

The wreckage of her silver BMW car ended up just 50 yards away from the primary school where the youngest of her three children was on her lunch break.

The Rosemary Nelson murder scene in Lurgan

Her two sons, aged 11 and 13 at the time, were on a school skiing trip in France when they heard their mother had been murdered.

Mrs Nelson had just returned from a weekend in County Donegal with her husband.

Her murder was carried out by the splinter loyalist group, the Red Hand Defenders, which is a cover name for the Ulster Defence Association and Loyalist Volunteer Force.

Only weeks before her death, Mrs Nelson had helped to lead demands for an inquiry into alleged collusion between elements of British security forces and Protestant paramilitaries which led to the 1989 killing of prominent nationalist lawyer Pat Finucane.

Days before her murder, she was preparing 200 nationalist compensation claims against the Royal Ulster Constabulary over Drumcree.

Her family said she was the victim of death threats because of her willingness to speak out in public about alleged sectarianism within the security forces and collusion with loyalist terror groups.

At the time of her murder, she had been due to meet a police watchdog to discuss her death threat allegations.

Param Cumaraswamy, the United Nations investigator to whom she had complained, said following the killing: "Though I feared that Rosemary's life was at stake, I really didn't expect this to happen to her."

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

The controversial cases to be investigated include the murders of Robert Hamill and Pat Finucane.

Archive footage of the murder scene

'Past haunts the peace process'
19 Apr 05 |  Northern Ireland
Inquiry into Nelson murder opens
19 Apr 05 |  Northern Ireland
Collusion cover-up denied
01 Apr 04 |  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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