Legal bid by Robert Hamill's mother to have charges reinstated against three people

Robert Hamill

The mother of a Catholic man beaten to death by a loyalist mob has launched a legal bid to have charges reinstated against three people in connection with the killing.

Lawyers representing Jessica Hamill told the High Court that a district judge was wrong to halt the prosecution of an ex-policeman and two others for an alleged attempt to obstruct the course of justice.

Her 25-year-old son Robert 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.

Mrs Hamill's legal team are now seeking to have that decision quashed, arguing that it was irrational.

Frank O'Donoghue QC insisted Jones' own conviction should have been treated as corroborating evidence.

He also contended that her credibility should have been determined at the Crown Court, where there were still sufficient safeguards.

"There's a world of difference between an accused being acquitted as a result of a trial process in which the witness gives evidence, and a district judge at the Magistrates' Court deciding such are the issues of credibility that in fact the defendant should not stand trial at all," he said.

"That is a very dangerous precedent to set."

Tny McGleenan QC, representing the Public Prosecution Service as a notice party in the legal challenge, countered that the district judge was not determining reliability on "collateral matters".

He added: "Some of the credibility problems related to the core issue - the authenticity and veracity of material in the (witness) statement."

Reserving judgment in the case, Lord Justice Stephens, sitting with Mrs Justice Keegan, pledged to deliver a verdict as soon as possible.

He said: "It's obviously a most important case and, equally obviously, we are going to take time to consider what our judgment is."

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