Northern Ireland

Ombudsman backs claims of RUC assault on Catholic man

John Hemsworth Image copyright Police Ombudsman's Office
Image caption John Hemsworth told his wife he was assaulted in the Springfield Road in west Belfast

A Police Ombudsman investigation has backed claims by the family of a Catholic man that his death 18 years ago was the result of an assault by RUC officers.

Police officers who may have information about the incident have been urged to come forward.

John Hemsworth ,39, told his wife he was assaulted in the Springfield Road in west Belfast in the early hours of Monday 7 July 1997.

He died six months later.

Two police investigations were unable to establish if police officers had been responsible for the injuries that led to his death.

Five years ago an inquest concluded "it was highly probable" that one or more RUC officers were responsible for injuries to Mr Hemsworth, which were likely to have played a part in his death.

The inquest heard expert evidence which described his injuries as being consistent with having been struck by a cylindrical object similar to a police baton.

'Police brutality'

A report by the Police Ombudsman says new evidence confirms that John Hemsworth was assaulted by police officers.

"Our findings are that police officers were involved that night, that he received extensive injuries as a consequence of that interaction with police officers and so, yes, ostensibly this was an example of police brutality unfortunately," said Adrian McAllister, chief executive of the office of the Police Ombudsman.

Image caption Adrian McAllister said he was satisfied that some police officers were involved in the assault

The assault took place in the Springfield Road area of west Belfast following a night of trouble.

The local police station had come under repeated attack from rioters during widespread trouble across Northern Ireland linked to the Orange Order parade stand-off at Drumcree in Portadown.

Mr Hemsworth was not involved in any of the trouble and had been walking through the area on his way home after a night out.

He alleged that as he was assaulted in Malcolmson Street, a minor road off the Springfield Road. He was later treated in hospital for a broken jaw.

His account of what happened has now been accepted by the Ombudsman.

"The medical evidence is that the injuries sustained by Mr Hemsworth were the sole underlying cause of his death in 1998," his report states.

"Further, the available evidence leads me to conclude that those injuries were sustained as a consequence of Mr Hemsworth being assaulted by police officers."

Paul Hemsworth, brother

"What I would say to the RUC officers who were present is, 'Let this be on your conscience, you know what happened.'

"Unfortunately the passage of 18 years, being able to get the precise truth becomes, more and more, less likely. We have no ultimate justice."

The report expresses concern that none of the 16 officers on duty in the area where the assault took place was able to recall any details of the incident.

Mr McAllister has urged former or current police officers with information about what happened to come forward.

Image caption Paul Hemsworth said the 'history books would reflect what happened'

"Whether we talk about modern policing or policing 20 years ago, honesty and integrity goes to the heart of policing, and I'm satisfied that some officers were involved in that assault that night and that some officers know what went on," he said.

"I would appeal to them once again to come forward and talk to this office, albeit that it's twenty years later, and tell us what happened."

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris appealed to anyone with information about the incident to contact the Police Ombudsman

The PSNI said it is a matter of deep regret that police officers who may have been involved in the assault have not been held to account.

Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris appealed to anyone with information about the incident to contact the Ombudsman.