Wednesday, 31 March 2004
Murdered reporter’s notes deciphered
IN SPITE of PSNI assurances to the National
Union of Journalists (NUJ) that the journalistic material
of murdered reporter Martin O'Hagan had been returned to his
family, the Irish Star has learnt some of it is
now being used by the PSNI to probe another high-profile case.
The Irish Star has learnt that the PSNI has
admitted some of O'Hagan's journalistic material, including
notebooks, has been deciphered.
And the deciphering of the notebook material is "at an
advanced stage" according to a letter from the top cop
heading up the Omagh bomb probe.
Some of his colleagues have concerns about the possibly
sensitive nature of the material in his notebooks being in
the hands of the police, as much of O'Hagan's investigations
dealt with suspected security force collusion with paramilitaries.
O'Hagan was shot dead close to his home in Lurgan in September
2001. Although ten local people have been quizzed about the
killing, all were released without charge.
His murder was claimed by the Red Hand Defenders, "for
crimes against the loyalist people", a cover name and
excuse used by loyalist groupings for "deniable" murders.
The 51-year old father of three had often specialized in
exposés of security force collusion with loyalist and
republican paramilitaries. He was planning fresh revelations about
a series of controversial murders, some of which are now the subject
of probes by investigators from the Police Ombudsman's office.
However, PSNI detectives probing his murder felt he had been
killed by LVF members who had taken an opportunity to settle old scores.
Martin's murder led to a meeting between his colleagues in the
National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and leading PSNI officers
in September 2002.
The high-level meeting was to discuss progress in his case and
also the rising level of threats to journalists by paramilitaries,
and took place on Friday 20 September at Mahon Barracks, Portadown.
When asked about the whereabouts of Martin's journalistic
material and notebooks, the NUJ was given to understand Martin's
shorthand had been undecipherable, and as a result was
returned to his family.
A member of the NUJ delegation last night told The Star:
"Police assured the delegation that the journalistic material
had been returned and that Martin's notes had been indecipherable,
because his shorthand was highly personalised and unreadable."
Now it appears some of Martin's journalistic material has been
deciphered and is being used to assist detectives probing the
Omagh bombing, which killed 29 people and unborn twins in August 1998.
This was confirmed when letters from the leading Omagh detective
were shown to The Star.
One letter, dated 16 December 2002, a full three months after
the NUJ meeting, from Detective Chief Superintendent Norman Baxter,
to Lawrence Rush, who lost his wife Libby in the horrific
Omagh blast, states:
Dear Mr Rush,
Mrs O'Loan, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has
contacted me on 12.12.02 in relation to a number of issues which you
raised with her.
I was unaware of the possibility that the late Martin
O'Hagan was in possession of information relevant to the Omagh
murder inquiry. I have allocated officers to speak to detectives
from the investigation team inquiring into Mr O'Hagan's murder,
to identify all documentation and to examine it for information
relevant to my investigation.
When my enquiries are complete I will inform you of
Mr Rush has confirmed he contacted Mrs O'Loan's office in the
Spring of 2002, as he strongly suspected O'Hagan had information
which may have been of use to the Omagh detectives.
But a fourth letter seen by The Star, dated
24 January 2004, also from DCI Baxter to Mr Rush deals with Mr
Rush's concerns about a range of issues relating to the Omagh bombing.
But he concludes: "Finally, I can confirm that the
deciphering of material belonging to the late Mr O'Hagan is
at an advanced stage. Yours N Baxter".
The news that his notebooks have in fact been deciphered was
last night welcomed by Jane Winter, director of British Irish
Rights Watch: "It is very interesting in relation
to the Omagh bombing.
"Martin O'Hagan was a fearless investigative journalist
and we hope that his notebooks may also be useful in
providing leads to other investigations, including his own."
A PSNI spokesman told The Star last night:
"We do not discuss evidence which we may or may not
have acquired or examined as part of an ongoing investigation."