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Man died because of assault by RUC officers, report finds

Most of the officers have retired from policing, but others remain within the PSNI.

THE POLICE SERVICE of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has expressed regret after a report found a man assaulted by officers later died from his injuries.

American citizen John Hemsworth lived in Belfast with his wife and daughter until his death in 1998.

On Sunday, 6 July 1997, he went to St Gall’s GAA club for the evening. At around 1.45am, John was attacked by members of the RUC as he made his way home on foot.

PastedImage-20097 John Hemsworth Source: Relatives for Justice

The attack followed disturbances between the RUC and nationalist youths after permission was given to allow an Orange Order march through the nationalist Garvaghy Road area of Portadown. This meant there were no taxis in the area.

As John made his way home to Conway Street in the lower Falls area, he encountered an RUC riot squad in nearby Malcolmson Street.

It is believed that they immediately set upon him with their batons and, the inquest found, kicked him as he lay on the ground.

John managed to get home and then onto the Royal Victoria Hospital where he was treated for a broken jaw, neck injuries and severe bruising to his body.

He began developing severe headaches and was also unable to eat given the injuries to his jaw. A self-employed plumber and heating engineer John was unable to work for a number of months.

On 27 December 1997 John was admitted to hospital with continued head, neck and jaw ache.

On 1 January 1998 John passed away from a major blood clot to the brain.


Portadown riot/RUC take aim-gun File photo of RUC riot police. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

On May 2011 an inquest established that John had died as a result of the attack by the RUC. However, none of the RUC officers present in Malcolmson Street where the attack occurred could recall anyone being assaulted by the RUC.

The case was referred to the Police Ombudsman, who said:

The medical evidence is that the injuries sustained by Mr Hemsworth were the sole underlying cause of his death in 1998. Further, the available evidence leads me to conclude that those injuries were sustained as a consequence of Mr Hemsworth being assaulted by police officers.

“I am concerned that throughout the course of three investigations and an Inquest no officer who was present has been able to recall the incident.”

Most of the officers have retired from policing, but others remain within the PSNI.

In a statement issued through Relatives for Justice and Flynn & McGettrick Solicitors, John’s widow Collette said:

““I was robbed of my loving husband and my daughter of her devoted father.

Nothing can ever replace that aching gap in our lives. The cherished memories we have of John remain with us every single day. He was a wonderful human being who would not have harmed a living soul and yet he was so cruelly set upon.

“Despite all the heartache of this past 19 years we can finally say that we established the truth for John – that the vicious and unprovoked assault by the RUC on John was the direct cause of his death. In that regard the battle for the truth was worthwhile despite how difficult it was.”

A statement from PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said they accept the findings.

It is a matter of deep regret that individual culpability for the assault on Mr Hemsworth has not been identified and that police officers who may have committed offences have not been held to account. I would take this opportunity to appeal to anyone who may have information in relation to this to come forward and contact the office of the Police Ombudsman.

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