New hearing to determine if trio linked to Robert Hamill murder should face trial

Portadown man Robert Hamill, who was murdered in 1997.
Portadown man Robert Hamill, who was murdered in 1997.

A decision to halt the prosecution of three people on charges linked to the loyalist mob killing of Catholic man Robert Hamill is to be quashed, High Court judges ruled today.

They ordered a new hearing to determine if an ex-policeman and two others should face trial for an alleged attempt to obstruct the course of justice.

The verdict came in a legal bid by the murder victim’s mother, Jessica Hamill, to have charges reinstated.

Her 25-year-old son was attacked in Portadown, Co Armagh in 1997. He never regained consciousness and died in hospital.

RUC officers in the area at the time have been accused of failing to intervene in the assault on Mr Hamill.

Former police reserve constable Robert Atkinson, 63, and his wife Eleanor Atkinson, 63, with an address at Brownstown Road, Portadown, had been charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in connection with the investigation into the killing.

Similar allegations were made against another man, Kenneth Hanvey, 65, of Derryanvil Road in the town.

All three defendants denied the claims against them.

In September 2014 a judge at Craigavon Magistrates’ Court refused to return the trio for trial after ruling that a key prosecution witness was unreliable and unconvincing.

It had been alleged that a phone call was made from the police officer’s house to the home of a former suspect in the killing, with advice given to destroy his clothing.

Mr Atkinson denied making the call and claimed his phone was used by another man, whose ex-wife Andrea Jones later gave evidence to contradicted this.

She said she had been asked by her former partner to make a false statement about the incident.

Jones subsequently pleaded guilty to carrying out an act tending to pervert the course of justice.

But the prosecution against the Atkinsons and Mr Hanvey was stopped for a second time on the basis of insufficient evidence against them.

That decision was based on a district judge’s assessment of the credibility of Jones’ evidence.

Mrs Hamill’s legal team challenged his determination, arguing that it was irrational.

They claimed the District Judge failed to consider all of the evidence against the defendants and neglected to take into account issues supporting Jones’ claims of a conspiracy involving the three defendants.

Her own conviction should have been treated as corroborating evidence, it was contended.

Ruling on the challenge, Lord Justice Stephens held that the supporting evidence does not obviously lead to the conclusion of insufficient material.

“We consider that there was an error of law in that it was not taken into account when considering the sufficiency of the evidence of Andrea Jones in relation to the core of the central allegation,” he said.

The judge confirmed: “We quash the decision dated September 3, 2014.

“We remit this case with a direction that the preliminary inquiry commence afresh before another judge who should feel free to make decisions on the basis of the evidence without regard to any conclusions previously reached.”