Current Key Documents

Chairman's Initial Statement


It was on the 15thof March 1999, now just over six years ago, that Rosemary Nelson was murdered, as she drove her car away from her house just a few miles from here, in Lurgan.

Lurgan was where she had grown up, where she had married and where she had lived, with her husband, Paul, and their three children. It was in Lurgan, too, that she ran her busy practice as a lawyer.

Rosemary Nelson’s clients included men accused of terrorist crimes. Before her death, she had spoken publicly, both here in Northern Ireland and in Washington, of threats that had been made to her personal safety and of the risks that she felt she ran in the course of her work. Within hours of Rosemary Nelson’s death, allegations of  collusion in her murder were made and have continued to be made ever since.

Following the agreement made between the British and Irish Governments at Weston Park, collusion investigations were conducted by the retired Canadian Supreme Court Judge, Peter Cory. On the basis of the documents which he examined, Justice Cory recommended that there should be a public inquiry into Rosemary Nelson’s case.

In November last year, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Right Honourable Paul Murphy,  established this Inquiry, under section 44 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998, into the circumstances which led to the murder of Rosemary Nelson and into the police investigation which followed it.

This is the Opening Hearing of the Inquiry. I am the Chairman of the Inquiry. Sitting on either side of me are my two colleagues, on my left, Sir Anthony Burden, and on my right, Dame Valerie Strachan.

Our backgrounds are in public service, albeit in different areas. I was a barrister and then  Queen’s Counsel, before being appointed a High Court Judge. I retired last year. Sir Anthony ended his career in the police service as Chief Constable of South Wales. Dame Valerie’s final appointment in the civil service was Chairman of the Board of Customs and Excise.

None of us had ever met until our appointment. None of us has any preconceived notions or prejudices or presumptions as to what the answers may be.

Our Terms of Reference, which have recently been extended by the Secretary of State at our request, are as follows:

“To inquire into the death of Rosemary Nelson with a view to determining whether any wrongful act or omission by or within the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Northern Ireland Office, Army or other state agency facilitated her death or obstructed the investigation of it, or whether  attempts were made to do so; whether any such act or omission was intentional or negligent; whether the investigation of her death was carried out with due diligence; and to make recommendations.”`

During the course of the Inquiry’s work, we will be obliged to consider allegations of the most serious kind, about which there will, no doubt, be strong views held by many people, only some of whom will have known Rosemary Nelson.

It is clear to us that her murder has become, over the years, the focus of much emotion and debate, some of it political. Although her murder was, regrettably, one of thousands which were committed during the terrible years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, it has attracted and continues to attract a high degree of interest and concern, both here and abroad.

Perhaps this was partly because it occurred at a time of greater hope, after the start of the peace process which has brought such striking changes to the province. Perhaps, as Justice Cory suggested in his report, it was due to the allegation that she was murdered because of her work as a lawyer. The presence of fearless and independent lawyers ready to defend their clients, whatever the nature of the allegations made against them, is an essential underpinning of the administration of justice.

In these circumstances, it would be all too easy to forget that Rosemary Nelson’s murder was, first and foremost, a terrible and bitter loss for her family.  In our work in this Inquiry, we will not lose sight of this.

Rosemary Nelson’s family is present here today. We have already taken the opportunity to meet privately with them. What was said at those meetings will remain private between us and will form no part of and have no bearing on the public work of this Inquiry. We will continue to be mindful of the family throughout the course of the Inquiry, conscious as we are  that the public nature of our work is bound to involve revisiting a deeply painful time for them.

We would ask all of those who become engaged with the Inquiry during its work, whether before, during or after our public hearings, to bear this simple fact in mind and to conduct themselves accordingly.

This Opening Hearing

In our Initial Procedural Statement, which is displayed on our website at, we set out our thinking as to how the work of the Inquiry would proceed. In this Opening Statement, we would like to describe the approach which we intend to take to our work, to outline the work we have done so far and to give some more details as to the future course of the Inquiry.

We will not be taking questions at the end of my Statement. However, if you have any points to raise or questions to put, you should not hesitate to get in touch with the Inquiry.

The Inquiry’s Approach

This is an independent, public Inquiry. In our approach to our work, each one of these three words is important; independent, public, inquiry.

First, we are independent. This is a point which cannot be too strongly emphasised. The Inquiry was set up by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and is funded by the Northern Ireland Office. However, in our work, we are, and will continue to be, completely independent of Government.

Decisions as to the work of the Inquiry will be ours and ours alone. We will consider the documentation we receive and the evidence we gather and come to our own conclusions. At the end of the Inquiry, we will set out those conclusions and our recommendations in our report, for which we and we alone will be responsible.

It is particularly important that this Inquiry is and is seen to be independent because the Northern Ireland Office is one of the bodies referred to in our Terms of Reference. We wish to make it quite clear that we will treat the Northern Ireland Office in exactly the same way as we will treat the other organisations referred to in our Terms of Reference. The Northern Ireland Office is itself well aware of the need to draw a clear distinction between its role as sponsoring department of the Inquiry and its position as one of the objects of the Inquiry.

There is another aspect of our independence which we would like to stress at this stage. Just as we are independent of Government, so we will resist any attempt to take over or improperly influence the Inquiry which may be made by any body, organisation or special interest group. We will not allow the Inquiry to become a political tool.  We will keep a firm control of the Inquiry’s proceedings so as to ensure that they are devoted to the proper work of the Inquiry.

This is a public Inquiry. We intend our hearings to be conducted in public. We recognise, of course, that there may be occasions on which, for very good reason, it is not possible to hear evidence in public. There may be a need for some evidence to be given in a manner which preserves the anonymity of the witness. We also accept that there will be documents or statements which will need to be appropriately redacted with the same considerations in mind, before being made public.

In our finalised Procedures Document, we will set out our approach to questions of this kind. We would like to emphasise that these cases will be the exception and not the rule. Our general presumption will be that documents and statements provided to us may be put in the public domain and that oral evidence will be given to us in public. Where any person or any body wishes to have documents, statements or evidence dealt with in a different way, it will be for them to explain why, and for us then to determine whether to uphold their representations and to make decisions accordingly.

Finally, this is an Inquiry.Our public hearings will not be a trial, with parties running cases against each other. Indeed, there are no parties, for our process is an inquisitorial one. We have no power to determine people’s rights or liabilities. Our task is to seek out the truth.

In order to accomplish that task, we will gather in the relevant documents, identify and pursue further material and lines of enquiry and decide from whom to obtain statements and from whom oral evidence should be heard. We will determine our own procedures in order effectively, expeditiously and economically to establish the facts and to make our recommendations.

We have recruited our own administrative and legal staff. Hugh Burns, the Secretary to the Inquiry, leads the administrative team. Michael Fitzgerald is the Solicitor to the Inquiry and leads our legal team.

We have appointed our own Counsel, all of whom are members of the independent English Bar. Rory Phillips QC is Counsel to the Inquiry and he is assisted by two junior barristers, Mark Savill and Peter Skelton.

The administrative and legal teams, together with our Counsel, make up the Inquiry Team. The Team’s task is to provide us with assistance and advice in our work.

Thus, it will be solicitors on our behalf who will obtain statements from witnesses. At our Full Hearing, it will be our Counsel who will make an Opening Statement, setting out all of the issues for us and describing the evidence which is to follow. It will be our Counsel who will undertake the vast majority of the questioning of witnesses.

Assisting the Inquiry

I turn now to describe the work we have done so far, but would first like to make two general remarks.

First, I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to anyone with documentation, information or evidence to make it available to us. In the first instance, they should contact the Inquiry Solicitor, Michael Fitzgerald, whose contact details will be available from members of the Inquiry team here today, as well as in the hard copy version of this statement and on our website.

Secondly,  we welcome submissions or papers from people or bodies who think they may have something to contribute to our work.


As for the work we have done so far, our first major task has been to gather in the documents which are relevant to our work. We have now received some relevant documentation from Government departments and others and have outstanding requests to a number of document holders. I repeat our appeal to anyone who thinks that he or she may have relevant documents to get in touch with our Solicitor.

In relation to documentation, as well as to information and evidence, we hope and expect to receive co-operation from everyone: Government departments, other organisations and individuals. However, we also have statutory powers to compel the delivery up of such material. Whilst we do not expect to have to use those powers and indeed hope that we will not have to do so, we will not hesitate to use them should it become plain to us that we need to do so in order to do our work thoroughly and effectively.

We and our Team have been examining and analysing material we have so far received. Where that material is incomplete, we will make further requests for documents. Where the material we have received leads to further lines of inquiry, we will pursue them.

We will need an extensive computer data-base to manage the substantial quantity of documentation which we shall be receiving. We expect our data-base to be up and running next month. This will allow us more effectively to analyse and assess the material. In turn, the data-base will enable us to work efficiently towards the next stage of our work, namely the identification of those individuals from whom we wish to obtain witness statements.

The Initial Procedural Statement

Meanwhile, we have been working with our Team to map out the way ahead and in particular the steps leading up to our Full Hearings. In our Initial Procedural Statement  of the 2ndof March, we gave details of our thinking at that stage and invited submissions on the procedural proposals which we outlined, as well as on specific topics, such as applications for Full Participant status, representation and public funding.

We are grateful to those, including the family’s solicitors, who have made submissions to us. We will consider all of the points made to us in drawing together our finalised Procedures Document. We will make decisions on the applications we have received. We hope to issue that Document, together with our Funding Protocol, shortly after this hearing.

I don’t wish to take up time this morning by repeating what we said in our Initial Procedural Statement. Instead, I would like to give some more details of our thinking as it now is, some six weeks later. If what I say prompts any further thoughts or points in the minds of people who are listening or who will read this statement, either in hard copy or on our website (where it will be posted following this hearing), please do not hesitate to get in touch with the Inquiry Solicitor.

We will consider any further ideas or views, provided they are expressed in writing and sent to our Solicitor by a final cut-off time of 4pm on the 26 th of April, a week today.

The Police Murder Investigation

The police murder investigation is one of the very substantial sources of material which we will have to consider. Of course, we are not conducting our own murder investigation. We are not equipped nor empowered to do so.

However, the murder investigation team’s material will be relevant to our work in a number of ways. Obviously, it is likely to shed light on the circumstances leading up to Rosemary Nelson’s murder, on the question of responsibility for her murder and on the allegations of collusion in her murder which have been made, all of which we will, of course, consider. Secondly, that material will, plainly, enable us to assess whether the investigation itself was subject to obstruction or attempted obstruction. Finally, that material will have to be examined in order to assess whether the investigation was itself conducted with due diligence.

The investigation team’s material is held on a police data-base. In order most efficiently to access and examine it, the Inquiry will need the assistance of those accustomed to using that kind of data-base. In addition, it is clear that the Inquiry will need to draw on the experience and expertise of those who have reviewed complex murder investigations. To these ends, we intend to recruit a small team of former police officers from outside the province with the relevant levels of experience and expertise to assist in our work.

The leader of that team will himself take on the task of assessing the quality of the investigation. In so doing, he will act as the Inquiry’s own expert in such matters. He will provide us with the evidence of applicable standards of best practice at the relevant times which will enable us to judge for ourselves whether the investigation of Rosemary Nelson’s murder came up to those standards. We envisage  that this person will submit a report to the Inquiry and give evidence at the Full Hearings. We will give details of the police team as and when the process of recruitment is completed.

Witness Statements

As we indicated in the Initial Procedural Statement, the process of analysing the documentation we receive will be followed by a decision as to which individuals will be asked to provide us with witness statements. Our aim will be to include on that list only those people whose evidence is clearly relevant to our work. However, it seems likely that the list will contain in excess of 100 names.

We have decided that the Inquiry should obtain its own witnesses statements. It is our intention to employ the services of a firm of solicitors as agents to the Inquiry, to take the majority of the witness statements. We believe that this will enable the process to be conducted as speedily as is practicable. We will announce the name of the successful firm and give details of a partner who will lead the team, once that  recruitment process has been completed.

Legal Assistance and Representation

This is an appropriate stage at which to say something about legal assistance and representation. In the Initial Procedural Statement we suggested that we were likely to grant Full Participant status to a small number of bodies in addition to Rosemary Nelson’s family. We set out our thinking as to the consequences of being a Full Participant, including the right to be represented throughout the Inquiry.

We will assess the applications for Full Participant status which we have received in response to the Initial Procedural Statement and give our decisions on these applications in our Procedures Document.

There may, in addition, be individuals from whom we will wish to obtain witness statements who are not legally represented by a Full Participant’s lawyers or whose interests differ from those of the Full Participants.

People who believe that they fall into this category may wish to have their own lawyer present at the time their witness statement is taken on behalf of the Inquiry. In some cases, there may be a case for that limited level of legal assistance to be publicly funded. In our Procedures Document and in our Funding Protocol, we will set out the procedure which will need to be followed in this and in other cases where some element of public funding is sought.

Turning, finally, to the question of representation at the Full Hearings, we accept that there may be some people, for example, witnesses whom we require to give oral evidence to us, who may have a case for representation during their evidence and possibly also during the evidence of another witness or witnesses whose evidence is at odds with their own, so as to ensure their proper interests are protected.

Again, we will establish procedures so that, at the appropriate time, applications can be made and determined in respect of these limited rights of representation and in respect of any application for public funding for such representation.

Subsequent Criminal or Disciplinary Proceedings

Another topic which we flagged up in the Initial Procedural Statement was the question of subsequent criminal or disciplinary proceedings. At the heart of this Inquiry is the crime of murder. Allegations about how that murder was committed and facilitated were made very soon after it took place and have persisted to this day. In these circumstances, we have been concerned to consider any measure which would encourage those with relevant documentation, information or evidence to give to be open-handed and frank with the Inquiry. We believe that the Inquiry’s chances of getting to the truth and of obtaining the fullest co-operation from those who could assist us in our work would be enhanced were there to be in place undertakings or assurances in relation to future criminal or disciplinary proceedings from the Attorney General and the relevant heads of department or organisation respectively.

None of the submissions we have received has made any comment on these questions. Provisionally, we intend  to seek the relevant undertakings and assurances. However, we will consider any written submission on the issues provided it is received by the Solicitor to the Inquiry before 4pm on the 26 th of April.

The Full Hearings

The task ahead is not only complex and difficult, it is also substantial. I would like to give just two examples to illustrate the extent of the work we have to do.

First, I have already pointed out that we will be considering not only the circumstances leading to Rosemary Nelson’s murder but also the murder investigation itself, in order to assess whether it was undertaken with due diligence. That investigation has lasted for over six years and generated a vast amount of documentation. To give some idea of its scale, during the course of their work, the police team obtained over 5,000 statements.

Secondly, some of  the documentation we have already received contains sensitive or confidential material. There will doubtless be further material of this kind disclosed to us as the Inquiry proceeds.

That material and its level of sensitivity or confidentiality will have to be assessed, together with the submissions of the document provider or others as to these questions, before decisions are taken as to whether or not that material should be redacted before being made publicly available as part of our documentation or evidence. In some cases, these are likely to be difficult questions. It will require considerable time, resources and effort, on our part and on the part of the Inquiry Team, to get the right answers.

So, when I said a few minutes ago that we would work effectively, expeditiously and economically, it must be recognised that we  will not be able to get our work done as quickly as  some would like. To be effective, we must take the time we need to get to the truth. To ensure that our  Full Hearings are conducted as efficiently as they can be, we will need to prepare for those Hearings fully and properly.

It is our aim to begin our Full Hearings in the spring of next year, but we will not announce a firm date until we have made substantial progress in our preparatory work and can make firm plans for the steps leading up to those Hearings.

In the Initial Procedural Statement, we made some brief comments about the Full Hearings themselves. As we pointed out, it is too early to make detailed statements as to how those Hearings will proceed. We would like this morning to highlight some points of importance, as they appear to us at this stage of our work.

It is obvious to us that the Full Hearings would be most effective if they have been properly prepared. This will enable us to focus on the real issues and not spend time on irrelevant matters.

This will require the preparation of as concise an Inquiry bundle of relevant documents as can be assembled. It will require a detailed timetable for submissions and evidence, so that our time and witnesses’ time is not wasted. It will require the identification of those witnesses from whom oral evidence is really necessary for us to complete our work. These are likely to be people at the heart of the matters we must investigate, those whose evidence is both material and contested and those who may be the subject of criticism. Finally, it will require firm control of the Hearings, so that time is spent on matters which will assist us in our work and not on matters which are irrelevant to that work.

The draft List of Issues

We believe that one of the best ways to ensure that our work is as focused and thorough as possible is to identify topics or issues to which we intend to direct particular attention. To that end, even though we have only begun the task of working through the relevant material, we published on 12 th April an initial draft List of Issues and called for comments in writing on it to be made by 4pm on the 26 th of April. We repeat that call today.

The List of Issues will be an important tool for us in our work and will regularly be up-dated as the Inquiry progresses. As will be apparent, the draft List covers a wide range of the issues which seem to us to be raised by our Terms of Reference.

As I have already said, those Terms of Reference have recently been extended by the Secretary of State, at our request, to include “the Army or other state agency” as objects of our Inquiry. We made that request because, on the basis of our initial reading, it was clear that we would have to consider the role not only of the former RUC but also of the other security forces in the circumstances which led up to the murder of Rosemary Nelson. In our draft List of Issues, we have specified some particular points which seem to us to require our investigation.

For the benefit of all of those who have not yet seen them, I will read them out. They are phrased in what I might call “law-speak” but bear with me because they are important.

  1. Did Rosemary Nelson’s work for her clients, create conflict with the RUC, the Northern Ireland Office [which I shall call the NIO], the Army or other state agency, and if so, to what extent.
  2. What threats were made to Rosemary Nelson’s personal safety by any persons or organisations; and the nature and extent of, and the reasons for such threats.
  3. To what extent were the RUC, NIO, Army or other state agency notified or otherwise aware of threats to, and concern for, Rosemary Nelson’s personal safety; including the nature, and the likelihood, of a specific attack.
  4. Whether Rosemary Nelson was subject to any adverse behaviour or comments by any persons or organisations, including the RUC, NIO, Army or other state agency; and the nature and extent of, and the reasons for such behaviour or comments.
  5. To what extent were the RUC, NIO, Army or other state agency notified or otherwise made aware of any other adverse behaviour or comment, to Rosemary Nelson or about her.
  6. To what extent were any complaints made by Rosemary Nelson and/or others, as to her alleged mistreatment by the RUC, investigated by the RUC, NIO, Army or other state agency.
  7. To what extent did Rosemary Nelson and/or others acting on her behalf seek assistance from the RUC, NIO, Army or other state agency regarding concerns for her personal safety and their reaction thereto.
  8. The response of the RUC, NIO, Army or other state agency to any knowledge of threats or adverse behaviour to or about Rosemary Nelson, including the investigation of the same.
  9. The nature and extent of any risk assessments carried out by or on behalf of the RUC, NIO, Army or other state agency with regard to Rosemary Nelson’s personal safety, including advice given arising from the same
  10. The nature, extent and quality of the material on which each such risk assessment was based.
  11. What material relevant to Rosemary Nelson’s personal safety was in the possession of, or available to, the RUC, NIO, Army or other state agency prior to Rosemary Nelson’s death.
  12. Rosemary Nelson’s response to any offers of assistance in relation to her personal safety made to her or to others representing her interests.
  13. The circumstances of Rosemary Nelson’s death, including the sequence of events and activities in the vicinity of Rosemary Nelson’s home in the 48 hours preceding her death.
  14. The persons or organisations who are suspected to be directly responsible for Rosemary Nelson’s death.
  15. How far, if at all, was Rosemary Nelson’s death facilitated by acts or omissions of the RUC, NIO, Army or other state agency.
  16. Where responsibility for any such acts or omissions lies.
  17. Whether such acts or omissions were intentional or negligent.
  18. Whether the investigation into Rosemary Nelson’s death was conducted with due diligence.
  19. Whether the RUC, NIO, Army or other state agency obstructed the investigation into her death.
  20. Whether any such obstruction was intentional or negligent.
  21. What procedures did the RUC, NIO, Army or other state agency have in place to assess and react to threats and adverse behaviour to an individual, whether reported by that individual or not.
  22. How such procedures have changed and might be improved.
  23. What procedures were in place to record and deal with adverse behaviour or comments by members of the RUC towards a detainee about his legal representative.
  24. How such procedures have changed and might be improved.
  25. What structures and procedures were in place to facilitate co-operation between the RUC, NIO, Army or other state agency with regard to any of the matters set out above.
  26. How such procedures have changed and might be improved.
  27. Whether any improvements in Police Service of Northern Ireland police procedures for murder investigations should be implemented in the light of the experience of Rosemary Nelson’s murder investigation.
  28. What other recommendations are appropriate in light of the Inquiry’s findings.

That is a long list of draft Issues but each one is important and deserves serious consideration. We stress again that these are our initial thoughts and that, as our work continues, they will develop and change. We have arrived at no conclusions and have no preconceptions and have no fixed points of view.                                    

Public Access

I would like to say a word about the way in which we will communicate with the public during the progress of our work. Our main tool will be our website. We will post major announcements, decisions, rulings and documents there and keep it regularly up-dated as the Inquiry progresses. We intend, in due course, that evidence given at the Full Hearings will appear on the website. As I have said, we intend our hearings to be held in public and members of the public will, of course, be welcome to attend them.

We will also continue to make press statements about major developments. The media will be welcome at our Full Hearings and our Team will work with their representatives, to ensure that arrangements are put in place  to facilitate full and proper reporting of our proceedings.

As soon as possible, we will announce details of the venue, that is the place where our public hearings will take place, and the start date for our Full Hearings.


Finally, let me say that we do not under-estimate the difficulty of the work we have to do. We hope and expect that everyone, whatever their political affiliation, religious belief or organisational loyalty, will co-operate with us fully and frankly in our search for truth. We know that uncovering the truth can be a painful business. However, the truth, when revealed, can allow lessons to be learned about the past and can lead to a better way forward for the future.

We intend to conduct our search for the truth impartially and fairly. We hope thereby to win the trust and confidence of the entire community here in Northern Ireland and of the wider public.

I would like to end these remarks by thanking everyone who has taken the trouble to come here to Craigavon today.  Copies of  this statement will be available at the back of the hall.

« Go Back a Page?