Outrage has followed the dropping of murder charges against five men held in the beating death of Robert Hamill, 25, the father-of-three who was killed by a loyalist mob in Portadown, Co. Down in 1997. Stacey Bridgett, 31, the man who had been charged with the murder of Hamill, told the public inquiry that he could tell a Catholic “by looking at them.” Bridgett, who was 19 at the time of the Portadown attack, was one of five men who had murder charges dropped when two key witnesses withdrew their evidence. Hamill died in hospital of brain damage 12 days after being kicked unconscious by a Loyalist mob in April 1997. The public inquiry into his death heard evidence that the 25-year-old had died from brain injuries similar to those suffered by car accident victims. Witnesses have claimed that police sitting in a nearby Land Rover witnessed the attack but failed to stop it. Bridgett denied involvement at the inquiry last week. Bridgett said he never saw anyone on the ground being kicked during what he described as a “killing match” involving between 20 and 30 people. Bridgett said he had no explanation for a drop of his blood found on Hamill’s trousers, said to be consistent with blood falling on the murdered man from above as he lay on the ground. He said a sore foot that he was suffering from after the murder was from a worked-related injury. On the night of the attack Bridgett said he had been talking to a policewoman in a Land Rover about his “Ralph Lauren shirt. She was talking about me being stylish,” Bridgett said. He also claimed that the police Land Rover had blocked his view of the attack at the junction of Market Street and Thomas Street, a well-known sectarian flashpoint. Bridgett also claimed to have pretended to be a Catholic when a man approached him because he feared being assaulted if identified as a Protestant. When pressed on how he knew the man’s religious denomination, Bridgett replied, “Sometimes you can sort of tell one by looking at them. I can sort of tell what they look like.” Solicitor Barra McGrory, representing the Hamill family, accused Bridgett of being “a sectarian bigot, motivated by sheer hatred of Catholics when he attacked Robert Hamill and jumped on his head.”
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