RIP Rosemary Nelson, killed by a loyalist paramilitary group’s car bomb close to her home in Lurgan, County Armagh, on 15 March 1999.
Rosemary Nelson was born in 1959 near the railway tracks that bisect Lurgan. During a childhood marked by the struggle for civil rights, she had undergone surgery to remove a birthmark which left one side of her face paralysed, the skin unnaturally stretched, one eye pulled down.
In 1989, Rosemary became the first woman to open a solicitor’s practice in Lurgan.
She quickly became an internationally known and respected human rights lawyer because of her dedication to her clients, often victims of violence and human rights violations in the North of Ireland. Rosemary frequently represented suspects detained for questioning about politically motivated offences. Most of her clients were arrested under “emergency laws” and held in specially designed holding centers, and were often interviewed without access to an attorney. Because she was one of a small number of solicitors brave enough to take up such sensitive cases, she was often the target of harassment, death threats and intimidation.
Sometime during the night of 14th March 1999, an explosive device was placed under Rosemary’s car. At approximately 12.40pm on Monday the bomb exploded as the 40-year-old mother of three braked at the bottom of the street where she lived.
The bomb tore her legs off and ripped through her abdomen. Her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah, was on lunch break in her school yard, less than 50 yards away. Rosemary’s sister, a teacher at the same school, spoke with Rosemary as firefighters cut through the twisted metal that pinioned the victim.
Rosemary would live two hours longer. She left behind a devastated family and a community in mourning; she was wife to Paul Nelson and a mother to Sarah, Christopher (11) and Gavin (13). A loyalist group, the Red Hand Defenders, claimed responsibility for the murder.
Notably, Rosemary’s life had been threatened previously by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) on a number of occasions. Police threats against solicitors were noted in a 1998 report by Param Cumaraswamy, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, who also specifically mentioned that Rosemary’s life could be in danger in a televised interview.
Moreover, in September 1998, Rosemary testified before the US Congress at the House International Relations Committee’s investigation into the human rights situation in the North of Ireland that she had received “several death threats against myself and members of my family. I have also received threatening telephone calls and letters. Although I have tried to ignore these threats inevitably I have had to take account of the possible consequences for my family and for my staff.”
In addition, residents in Rosemary’s community have stated that the attack took place against the backdrop of unprecedented security activity in the weeks and days leading up to the murder in the area surrounding the Nelson home.
However, the results of an inquiry into Rosemary’s death published on 23 May 2011 concluded there was no “direct collusion” between state agencies and the loyalists who murdered her (although it did not rule out the possibility that “rogue” RUC members may have been involved in the death plot with loyalist paramilitary groups).
With many thanks to: Gréine Ni Dhochartaigh – Irelands Own