Disturbing lack of police candor

Posted By: November 25, 2016

Irish News (Belfast). Editorial. Friday, November 25, 2016

We have had many tragic deaths in Northern Ireland over the course of the Troubles for which those responsible have never been held to account.

The case of John Hemsworth certainly falls into that category but there are clear differences in terms of the unusual circumstances of his untimely death.

For one thing, this was a relatively recent case. Mr. Hemsworth, a 39-year-old US national, died in January 1998.

He also pointed the finger of blame at those who assaulted him six months earlier, causing injuries that played a part in his death.

According to Mr. Hemsworth, who provided a brief account to his solicitor, RUC officers assaulted him as he walked along Malcolmson Street, west Belfast, in July 1997.

Police were in the Springfield Road area following disturbances linked to the Drumcree protest.

A complaint was lodged with the RUC following Mr. Hemsworth’s death but in January 1999 police reported they had found no evidence to support the allegations.

Members of the dead man’s family pursued the case, resulting in an inquest and an investigation by the Police Ombudsman’s office which found new evidence placing Mr. Hemsworth in the same location as police officers at the time of the assault.

Dr. Michael Maguire believes this confirms the inquest finding that it was highly probable that one or more police officers were responsible for the injuries which contributed to Mr. Hemsworth’s death.

Sixteen police officers were interviewed but none admitted the attack or implicated any of their colleagues.

It is little wonder that Mr. Hemsworth’s family have described this situation as a “conspiracy of silence”. It is deeply disturbing that not one officer has been able to provide information about such a grave matter.

Some of those questioned are still serving in the PSNI while others have retired.

The police regularly ask the public to come forward with information. It is time those involved in this attack finally do what is right.