Northern Ireland

Robert Hamill murder: Three accused will not face trial

Robert Hamill Image copyright Undated Handout ex Elvis
Image caption Mr Hamill's murder was the subject of a public inquiry, because of allegations that police officers were positioned near the scene of the attack but did not intervene

Three people, including a former policeman, will not face trial on charges connected to the murder of Robert Hamill, a court has ruled.

Mr Hamill, a 25-year-old Catholic, was attacked and beaten by loyalists in Portadown, County Armagh, in 1997.

Ex-policeman Robert Cecil Atkinson, his wife Eleanor Atkinson and Kenneth Hanvey were facing conspiracy to pervert the course of justice charges.

The court ruled the witness who made the claims against them was unreliable.

'Utterly unconvincing'

The judge at Craigavon Magistrates' Court criticised the evidence given by Andrea Jones, who was formerly known as Andrea McKee.

He described her as "evasive, obstructive and untruthful" and said he found her to be "an entirely unreliable and utterly unconvincing witness".

Mr Hamill's murder was the subject of a public inquiry, because it was alleged that four police officers were positioned in a police vehicle near the scene of the attack but did not intervene.

Mr Atkinson, a former reserve constable in the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), was one of the officers in the police vehicle on the night Mr Hamill was murdered.

It had been alleged that a phone call was made from the police officer's home on Brownstown Road, Portadown, to the home of Allister Hanvey - one of the six people who had, at one time, been charged with Mr Hamill's murder.

It was further alleged that the ex-policeman advised Mr Hanvey to destroy the clothing he was wearing at the time of the incident and that he kept Mr Hanvey up to date as the police investigation progressed.

'False statement'

The charges against five of the murder accused, including Mr Hanvey, were dropped and the sixth person was acquitted following a trial.

Mr Atkinson denied making the phone call to Mr Hanvey's house.

The ex-policeman claimed that his phone had been used by Michael McKee, the uncle of Mr Hanvey's girlfriend.

At the time, Mr McKee and his then wife Andrea, and the policeman's wife, Eleanor Atkinson, all gave police statements supporting Mr Atkinson's version of events.

However, three years later, following the breakdown of her marriage to Michael McKee, Andrea Jones told the police that neither she nor her former husband had stayed at the Atkinsons' house on the night of the murder.

Ms Jones said that she had been asked by her ex-husband to make the false statement following a request from Mr Atkinson.

Michael McKee and Andrea Jones later pleaded guilty to carrying out an act tending to prevent the course of justice.

Bigamy

In April 2003, the Director of Public Prosecutions began to prosecute the police officer, his wife Eleanor Atkinson, and Kenneth Hanvey, based on the allegations made by Ms Jones.

Kenneth Hanvey, of Derryanvil Road, Portadown, is the father of Allister Hanvey.

However, Ms Jones did not attend court to give evidence, first claiming that her child was ill and later claiming that she had received a threatening letter, warning her not to give evidence.

The charges against the three defendants were then withdrawn, because without Ms Jones' testimony there would be insufficient evidence for a conviction.

The Director of Public Prosecutions was later asked to reconsider its decision to withdraw the charges, following the publication of the interim report of the public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Mr Hamill's murder.

The DPP initiated a fresh prosecution against Mr Atkinson, his wife and Kenneth Hanvey in June 2011 and this time, Ms Jones did attend the preliminary court hearing.

However, she refused to answer questions about her remarriage and was subsequently prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service in England for bigamy, to which she pleaded guilty.

'Outlandish assertions'

In his judgement at Craigavon Magistrates' Court on Wednesday, the judge said he was "not able to attribute any degree of credibility" to the evidence Ms Jones gave against the three accused.

He said that she had peppered her testimony with "inconsistencies and outlandish assertions of having no recollection of pivotal moments in her life".

He said that as there was no other evidence against the defendants, independent of Ms Jones, the case as presented was not sufficient to put the accused on trial and he declined to return them to court.

More on this story