Calls to re-open case into US citizen killed after RUC assault

The family of US-born John Hemsworth has called for an inquest into his death and for the American government to get involved in his case. By Frank Connolly


A campaign has been launched in the US to establish the truth surrounding the death of a man who died after he was beaten by members of the RUC nine years ago. US-born John Hemsworth, 39, originally from Kearney, New Jersey, died in December 1997, five months after he was beaten by RUC officers.

His father, Michael Hemsworth, from west Belfast, said his son's jaw was fractured after an assault by the RUC in west Belfast on 7 July 1997. Five months later he died from a brain haemorrhage which two British doctors say was directly linked to the assault.

Following his death, a state pathologist ruled there should be no inquest into the death after he concluded it was not the result of the assault by the RUC.

The attack on John Hemsworth occured on the day the RUC forced an Orange Parade down the nationalist Garvaghy Road in Portadown, Co Armagh. John Hemsworth was assaulted on the Falls Road in west Belfast after he accidentally walked into a riot, according to his family.  

His family is campaigning to have the case re-opened and an inquest held into his death, the only killing of a US citizen as a result of the Northern conflict.

“The RUC killed my son and and covered up its involvement. They beat him and then taunted him as he made his way to hospital,” Michael Hemsworth, 72, said.  

The only witness to the assault, other than the RUC officers involved, was west Belfast man Tony Carnaghan, who drowned in 2001, according to Michael Hemsworth.

While he accepted it was unlikely any charges would be brought against the RUC officers involved, he said he wanted the British government to accept his son's death was a result of what he said was an unprovoked attack.

On his release from hospital a few days after the assault, John Hemsworth instructed lawyers to take proceedings against the RUC.

“The American government has a duty to get involved. They should be demanding why one of their citizens could be treated like this,” Michael Hemsworth said. He said the British government had originally promised to hold an inquest into his son's death but it has not been held after nine years.

John Hemsworth
On 2 December, Father Sean McManus, president of the Irish National Caucus in Washington, appealed to members of the new US Congress for their assistance with the case.

“We want American pressure to make the British government keep its promise to hold an inquest. We want the Northern Ireland Ombudsman's Office to re-open the case. And we want all Irish-American groups to rally to this cause. We ask the international human-rights community to take up the issue,” Fr McManus said.

“We must arouse the conscience of Irish-Americans. It is a disgrace that the killing of this Irish-American has received such little attention, and it is an outrage that his family has received no justice,” said Fr Sean McManus.

The case has received scant attention outside of west Belfast despite the findings of two British doctors – Professor Derrick Pounder of the University of Dundee and Professor Helen Whitewell of the University of Sheffield – that the assault was directly linked to John Hemsworth's death.

Amnesty International has also taken up the case and a complaint alleging RUC brutality was lodged with the Independent Commission on Police Complaints. The complaints file was closed shortly after John Hemsworth's death.

“The US government holds the key,” said Michael Hemsworth. “If they push the case I believe the courts over here will have no other choice but to order an inquest into John's killing.

“What is most galling for me is when I see the American government meeting with the relatives of other people who have been murdered in Ireland – the likes of the McCartneys and Raymond McCord.

“I'm not criticising these people. I support their campaigns for justice. What I don't understand though is how American politicians support them and they refuse to help with John's case. My son was an American citizen.”