Representations by Interested Parties

Representations by Interested Parties on Applications for Anonymity

A request has been made to the Inquiry on behalf of an interested party to be provided with copies of all applications for anonymity, suitably redacted, so that representations can be made to the Inquiry on that party's behalf about whether or not any of them should be granted.

It is the intention of this Inquiry to conduct its proceedings with the highest degree of transparency that is compatible with the human rights of those whose lives it touches. This application raises the question whether some or all interested parties can be given material details of anonymity applications without infringing the rights of those who are making the applications. It should be pointed out at once that a substantial number of the applications for anonymity so far received are unlike most of the applications made on behalf of soldiers who had been involved in the events with which the Bloody Sunday Inquiry was concerned, in that theirs was a class application whose substance could be provided to interested parties without any need to disclose details which could have led to discovery of the identity or whereabouts of those applicants.

It seems likely that applicants for anonymity in the instant Inquiry can be divided into four groups.

1. Those civilians alleged to have been participants in the violence which led to Robert Hamill's death.

2. Those civilians who were witnesses to those events or who have knowledge of or were involved in subsequent investigations.

3. Serving police officers who were involved in the events of the night in question or in subsequent investigations.

4. Retired police officers who were similarly involved.

The grounds of the applications made so far fall into three broad categories:

1. Portadown is a troubled place and there is a sectarian divide of such a nature that there are people on one side of the divide who are disliked and subjected to threats by, and are at risk of violence and harassment from, those on the other side. Consequently, anyone who is known to have had a connection with the death of Robert Hamill, even though merely as a witness to some of that night's happenings, or to have been involved in subsequent investigations, his or her family will be at risk from members of the other side of the sectarian divide.

2. There are those on both sides of the sectarian divide who have no love for the police and it is enough for a police officer to have been known to have had some connection with the events surrounding the death of Robert Hamill on the night, or some connection with subsequent investigations, to be at risk from one side or the other of the divide or from both sides.

3. In the case of some (mainly police officers) there have been incidents and/or threats particular to those individuals which have put them or their families at risk.

Some of the applications which fall into the first two categories contend that the applicant or his or her family would be put at risk because of the particular part of Portadown in which they live. Portadown is not a city and to identify a part of the town with sufficient particularity may, because of the confines of that area, be sufficient to lead to the applicant or members of his or her family being identified. To give details of incidents and threats falling within category three, which may or may not relate to the death of Robert Hamill or subsequent investigations into his death, could be capable of leading to the identification of the applicants.

Thus the nature of the fears expressed fall into two broad categories.

1. Those which are of a general nature because of what is said to be the condition of life in Northern Ireland and particularly in Portadown.

2. Those which relate to experiences and threats which are particular to the applicant.

In the case of applications falling within the first of these categories, regardless of whichever of the four groups referred to above to which the applicants belong, any interested party wishing to make representations should be in a position, assisted by the nature of the claims categorised above, to make adequate submissions in writing. Additionally, though, the Inquiry will be making its own enquiries. All relevant information obtained, unless protected against disclosure by Public Interest Immunity, together with any information submitted by or on behalf of an applicant for anonymity in support of his or her application, but excluding any information which could lead to the discovery of the identity or whereabouts of the applicant or members of his or her family, will be provided to an interested party who wishes to make representations about an application for anonymity. Before any such disclosure is made the applicant's comments on the proposed disclosure will be invited and will be considered before a decision is made on disclosure. No such disclosure will be made if on consideration by the Chairman of an application or of further submissions made to him in support of it it is clear that the application should be refused. If, after a refusal by the Chairman, there is a request for an oral hearing before the full Panel the disclosure procedure will be followed.

It would not be appropriate to give details of the grounds relied upon by applicants whose cases fall within the second category. The risk of identification could not be avoided simply by withholding names and contact details. Accordingly, there cannot be disclosure to interested parties of such applications.

Consideration has been given to whether use should be made of Special Counsel to assist an interested party who wishes to make representations as to why anonymity should not be granted. This is not considered to be necessary. Counsel to the Inquiry have a duty to assist the Inquiry and not to adopt an adversarial approach to applications for anonymity. It will be their obligation whether on applications considered on the papers or at an oral hearing, to draw attention to arguments, whether for or against anonymity, which have not so far been presented and to comment on those which have been made. This will be in order to assist the Chairman or the panel, as the case may be, to make a balanced and fair judgment.

It is appropriate in this document to underline the fact that this is a public inquiry and that, unless for good cause, all oral evidence will be given in public by witnesses whose names are given and will be visible to members of the public attending the Inquiry. Similarly, the presumption is that all relevant documents will be read in public and their authors named unless there is an overriding public interest or human right reason to the contrary. Although all applications for anonymity will be considered on their merits, there are two considerations which are likely to inform the determination of all applications:

1. The names of the alleged participants in the violence which led to the death of Robert Hamill and of the police officers who were in the police Land Rover on the night in question have been given. Some of the officers have given evidence without the use of a screen, and those charged with offences have appeared publicly in court. No harm has come to any of them. As emphasised above, each application will be considered on its merits but it appears likely that any applicant for anonymity will need to demonstrate why he or she is said to be at greater risk than any of those charged with an offence connected with Mr Hamill’s death or the RUC officers in the Landrover.

2. Although it is important to know what threats and incidents of violence there have been in the past in relation to someone seeking anonymity it will be important to know what are the present risks which are relied upon and whether threats will be triggered by being called upon to give evidence at the Inquiry and by being named in relation to the matters under investigation by this Inquiry.