Chairman's opening remarks

At the preliminary hearing on 24 May 2005 the chairman of the Inquiry, Sir Edwin Jowitt, read the following statement:

Opening remarks

1. This is a public inquiry established by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Right Honourable Paul Murphy, MP, under section 44 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 to implement the recommendation of the retired Canadian Supreme Court Judge, Peter Cory, following an investigation by him into a number of deaths which have occurred in Northern Ireland, among them the death of Robert Hamill. This was an investigation which was made in consequence of an agreement between the British and Irish governments that his death, among others, should be looked at anew.

2. In setting up this Inquiry the Secretary of State said, in explaining his purpose:

"It is essential that all people in Northern Ireland can have confidence in the integrity of the state and its institutions. Where there are serious allegations of wrongdoing it is important that the facts are properly established. It is important that we find a way in Northern Ireland of dealing with the past in the way that recognises the pain associated with it without allowing it to destroy all hope of a better future."

3. Perhaps we may be permitted to add a few words of our own about the hope of a better future. Looking back at the past and particularly seeking to appreciate its impact on present experience can help us to a better understanding of the present and of the future. But if all we do is look at the past we are ignoring the present and the future. A society which is so busy remembering only past conflicts that it ignores the present and doesn't anticipate its future life is a society without hope because the very essence of hope lies in having a positive attitude to the future. It is our hope that our work in this Inquiry may do a little to help people to look forward with hope. If mutual trust and respect can be built among the people of Northern Ireland hope is likely to be based on a surer foundation.

4. My colleagues with whom I am conducting this inquiry are the Reverend Baroness Richardson, a former Moderator of the Free Churches' Council of England and Wales and Sir John Evans, formerly Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall. After practising at the Bar of England and Wales I became first a Circuit judge and then a High Court judge. I am now retired. None of us had ever met or held any communication with one another before our appointment to this Inquiry. More detail is available on the Inquiry's web site.

5. The Acting Secretary to the Inquiry is Mr Brendan Walsh. The Solicitor to the Inquiry is Miss Zaqia Rashid. They are both civil servants. Prior to their appointments to this Inquiry neither of them had been involved in the course of their work in the affairs of Northern Ireland. The address of the Inquiry is PO Box 50156, London, SW1E 6WX. The Inquiry's phone number is 020 7976 0473. Its fax number is 020 7222 9297. Its e-mail address is info@roberthamillinquiry.org. Its website address is www.roberthamillinquiry.org.

6. Our terms of reference are as follows:

"To inquire into the death of Robert Hamill with a view to determining whether any wrongful act or omission by or within the Royal Ulster Constabulary facilitated his 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 his death was carried out with due diligence; and to make recommendations."

7. The need for this Inquiry to be set up by government arises from three facts.

a) The agreement between the British and Irish governments and the recommendation by Justice Cory.

b) Only an Inquiry set up by government under an Act of Parliament would have the power to pursue the appropriate investigations in relation to Robert Hamill's death.

c) It was necessary that the work of the Inquiry should be facilitated by proper funding.

8. Having said this, it is important to point out that we are independent of government or any other body or person. We control the conduct of this Inquiry and we decide what evidence we shall receive. The decisions and recommendations which we make following the conclusion of the Inquiry and which will be set out in our report to the Secretary of State will be ours and ours alone. We are quite independent in all these matters of the Northern Ireland Office, a fact which the officials of the Northern Ireland Office have been at pains to make clear in our dealings with them. Nor shall we allow ourselves to be led or improperly influenced by others, whoever they may be.

9. I have said this is a public inquiry. This means that our hearings will be conducted in public. There may, exceptionally and only for good reason, be occasions when some particular piece of evidence cannot be heard in public or has to be given in a manner which will preserve the anonymity of the witness. The same considerations may arise in relation to written evidence. Whether any of this will arise once we begin our public hearings I do not yet know. If it is argued in relation to any evidence or witness that they do, the arguement will have to be considered and ruled upon as and when it arises.

10. At the outset of work in public we should like to express our sincere condolences to Caroline Maguire, the children of the late Robert Hamill and to his family for his untimely death. As well as being a matter which has given rise to considerable public interest and concern, none of us should lose sight of the fact that Robert Hamill's death was and is a matter of sadness and grief to those who mourn him. We express the confident hope that no one having business before this Inquiry will forget this and that we shall all remember that whether or not Robert Hamill was of one faith or another he was a fellow human being.

11. We ask that anyone who has any relevant information to contribute should provide it as soon as possible to the Inquiry Solicitor.

12. Anyone who has any suggestions to make about a possible line of inquiry is also asked to do the same, as soon as possible.

13. These are two important requests because the evidence and the issues to be considered will be prepared and presented by Counsel to the Inquiry. Theirs is a neutral role, as is appropriate for lawyers whose task is not to argue a case but firstly to place before us all the evidence and considerations which have any relevance to the issues of fact which we shall have to decide and secondly to assist us also to decide what recommendations it is appropriate for us to make to the Secretary of State. We should like to stress that we embark upon our task without any preconception as to where the truth lies. We are anxious to do all we reasonably can to discover that. The evidence placed before us may vary in its quality but we are sure that it is only by considering and weighing all the evidence which has relevance to our terms of reference that we can properly perform our task of seeking after the truth.

14. These proceedings are unlike a civil or criminal trial in which there are two sides, with each side calling its own witnesses and advancing its own case. It seems certain that we shall have conflicting evidence upon various issues. Counsel to the Inquiry will present all the evidence and test it so as to assist us to reach our conclusions. From time to time we may ourselves ask questions.

15. Interested parties, though, will not be permitted as a matter of course to question witnesses, still less to call their own witnesses. However, if we are persuaded there is a good reason to do so in the case of any particular witness, persons who have been given the right to be heard, or their advocates, will be allowed, in addition to Counsel to the Inquiry, to put questions. Depending on the submissions made to us, that permission may or may not relate to all aspects of the witness's evidence. I shall be vigilant to restrict questions to those which are relevant to our terms of reference and to prevent repetition and long windedness. Such questions will follow questions by Counsel to the Inquiry who, at their conclusion, will be permitted to ask further questions.

16. If anyone should seek himself to call a witness rather than that he or she be called by Counsel to the Inquiry there will need to be a very good justification for this. Save for material protected by public immunity the statements of the witnesses to be called by Counsel to the Inquiry will be provided to the interested parties, or their legal advisers, before we begin hearing evidence to assist them in their preparation. It is obviously important in the interest of fairness to all of them that they should know, so far as possible, what is the general tenor of the evidence to be adduced. To allow interested parties to call their own witnesses in the absence of a very strong reason would militate against this and might delay proceedings if new matter were to be introduced in this way and it became apparent as a consequence that a witness already called might have had something to say on the point and so had to be recalled.

17. Although I have said copies of witness statements will be provided to interested parties it must be understood that some of them may have to be redacted by omitting identifying details and that, in any event, statements will be provided only on the basis that their contents are not to be divulged, save for the purpose of taking instructions, in the period running up to the hearing of oral evidence and until it becomes clear at the hearing that the statement will be part of the evidence presented to the Inquiry. An undertaking to this effect will be required from interested parties and their legal advisers as a precondition to the provision of statements. The form of undertaking which will have to be signed is available from the Secretary to the Inquiry. In general, witnesses' addresses will not be included in their statements. If the address of any witness is sought application should be made to the Solicitor to the Inquiry with an explanation of why it is required. The application will be considered and a decision made upon it.

18. Witnesses who give evidence to this Inquiry will not be obliged, if they choose not to (and, though they may receive advice about it, the decision must be theirs), to answer any question, the answer to which might incriminate them in respect of any criminal or police disciplinary offence of which they have not been convicted.

19. Once the hearing of evidence is concluded, or as its conclusion draws close, we shall consider whether to proceed straight away after its conclusion to submissions or whether to allow a few days’ interval to enable those who will be making them to complete their preparation. Counsel to the Inquiry will address us first. That will be followed by any submissions by or on behalf of interested parties. When these submissions are concluded Counsel to the inquiry will be permitted to make such further submissions as arise out of them.

20. We are very conscious of the many emotions to which the death of Robert Hamill has given rise and we repeat that our overriding concern in this Inquiry will be to do all we can to ascertain where the truth lies concerning the issues raised by our terms of reference.

21. We set out the principal issues to which evidence will be addressed and which we shall have to consider.

(i) Could and should the RUC have done more to avert Robert Hamill's death by way of better policing provision on the night of the 26th/27th April 1997?

(ii) If so, was the failure to make that provision negligent or deliberate?

(iii) Could and should the RUC officers at the scene of the attack on Robert Hamill have done anything, or refrained from doing something, so as to prevent his death?

(iv) If so, was the act or omission negligent or deliberate?

(v) Could and should RUC officers present at the scene have done more to identify and facilitate the prosecution of perpetrators?

(vi) If so, was the omission negligent or deliberate?

(vii) Did any RUC officer attempt to obstruct the investigation of the death of Robert Hamill?

(viii) If so, was any such attempt successful?

(ix) Could and should the RUC have done more to investigate firstly Robert Hamill's death and secondly any attempted obstruction into the investigation itself?

(x) If so, was the omission negligent or deliberate?

(xi) What recommendations should be made?

There will no doubt be other issues.

PROCEEDINGS

22. Subject to the need to retain some flexibility to meet circumstances which may arise, our aim is to sit on Tuesdays to Fridays, generally from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., breaking off for lunch from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. On Fridays we may sit earlier so as to rise earlier. We propose to sit for four weeks at a time, with a one-week break between each four week stint. As we come up to Christmas we may go under or over a four week stint. We shall not resume after Christmas until Tuesday the 24th of January.

23. The hearings are expected to take place in Belfast. At this stage it is difficult to say precisely when the hearing of evidence will begin, but it will not be before Tuesday the 15th of November, bearing in mind the time needed to enable the Solicitor and Counsel to the Inquiry to gather and prepare the evidence and for the interested parties to consider it. We shall consider whether, in order to assist interested parties, the witness statements can be provided in tranches.

OUR OWN PREPARATIONS

24. To prepare ourselves for the Inquiry we visited Portadown on the 26th January this year, when we walked around the streets forming the crossroads where, or near to which, Robert Hamill received his injuries. We looked particularly at sight lines from various points. We also drove out to the grounds of the Rugby Football Club to see where they lie in relation to the town centre. We did not announce our visit because we wished to see the site without attracting attention and without distraction. However, if we are asked to do so we shall make a further visit to Portadown in the presence of the interested parties and their legal advisers to see whatever they wish to draw to our attention.

25. We shall also wish to see the Land Rover which was used on the night in question, or one similar, to see what could be seen from it in different locations and what could be heard inside it of what was going on outside.

26. We have read, or will soon have completed reading, the following books and articles.

Making Sense of the TroublesDavid McKittrick
A History of Northern Ireland 1920-96Thomas Hennessey
Arming the Protestants: Formation of the Ulster Special Constabulary & the Royal Ulster Constabulary. 1920-27Michael Farrell
Drumcree: The Orange Order’s Last StandChris Ryder
StandoffGordon Lucy
Orange Citadel: A History of Orangeism in PortadownDavid Jones
From Civil Rights to Armalites: Derry and the Birth of the Irish TroublesNiall O’Dochartaigh
Northern Protestants: An Unsettled PeopleSusan McKay
Political Rituals: Loyalist Parades in PortadownDominic Bryans, T.G. Fraser and Seamus Dunn

and those parts of the Cameron and Scarman reports which deal with the general background in Northern Ireland against which the incidents being investigated in their inquiries occurred.

27. We are all comparative strangers to Northern Ireland and in particular to Portadown and its ethos. I had never visited Northern Ireland until after my appointment to this Inquiry. Bearing this in mind, we have sought to learn something of the troubled background against which the events of the 27/4/1997 and subsequent investigations were played out and the continuing turmoil after that in order, as we hope, the better to understand the evidence placed before us. Anyone who is familiar with the material we have read, or who wishes to read it, will see that the publications were not all written from the same standpoint.

28. We shall also read the witness statements before the hearing of evidence begins. When we come to the fact finding exercise we shall take account both of what we hear from witnesses and what they say in their statements. Whether in the case of any witness we gain more assistance from his or her oral evidence or written statement about a particular matter is something we shall not decide upon until we begin to consider our findings. In an inquiry such as this there are no formal rules of evidence and we shall also take under consideration hearsay evidence, though we shall, of course, remind ourselves of the limited value which hearsay evidence may often, but not necessarily, have.

29. This concludes my remarks at this morning's session. If there are any submissions or applications to be made at this stage we shall hear them at 2 o'clock. If there are it would be helpful if those who wish to make them would inform briefly either the Solicitor or Counsel to the Inquiry of their substance. If there is an afternoon session it will not be filmed or photographed.