Judge halts Robert Hamill trial

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A judge has stopped the trial of two men and a woman in connection with the sectarian murder of a man by a loyalist mob in Northern Ireland.

Robert Hamill, a Catholic aged 25, was beaten by the gang in Portadown in April 1997. He never regained consciousness and died in hospital.

District Judge Eamonn King said the evidence provided to the court was insufficient to put the accused on trial.

The case involved a police officer allegedly tipping off a former suspect.

Mr Hamill, a father-of-three, suffered serious head injuries and died 11 days after the attack. His murder was one of the most notorious of the later days of the Northern Ireland conflict.

It was one of four cases examined by retired Canadian judge Peter Cory following claims of security force collusion in the killings.

Allegations that police failed to intervene to help Mr Hamill were the subject of a subsequent public inquiry.

The Magistrates’ Court in Craigavon on Wednesday declined to return the defendants – police reserve constable Robert Atkinson and his wife Eleanor Atkinson who live in Brownstown Road, Portadown, and Kenneth Hanvey who lives in Derryanvil Road in the town – to the Crown Court on charges connected to the murder of Mr Hamill, a Courts’ Service statement said.

They were accused of offences including conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

According to the court statement, a phone call was made from reserve constable Atkinson to the home of a former suspect in the killing during which he advised him to destroy the clothing he was wearing at the time of the incident and later kept him up to date as the police investigation progressed.

Mr Atkinson claimed his phone had been used by another man, whose former wife Andrea Jones became a key witness when she contradicted this.

District Judge King said he found Ms Jones to be “an entirely unreliable and utterly unconvincing witness”.

“She was evasive, obstructive and untruthful, peppering her evidence with inconsistencies and outlandish assertions of having no recollection of pivotal moments in her life.”

The Courts Service statement said: “District Judge King said that he was not able to attribute any degree of credibility to any portion of her deposition. He said that the evidence was not sufficient to put the accused on trial and he declined to return them to court.

“He discharged each of the accused in respect of all matters before this court.”