Article from the NUJ's official magazine the Journalist


Who did it?

It's 18 months since Northern Ireland reporter Martin O'Hagan (below) was gunned down near his home in Lurgan. Police have told the NUJ they have interviewed a number of people and are still prioritising the case. But there have been no charges Belfast freelance MIKE BROWNE, who specialises in security investigations, sorts through the claims and counter-claims.

COLLEAGUES of murdered journalist Martin O'Hagan are increasingly concerned about police efforts to apprehend his killers. Many are now openly suspicious the police hunt is being blocked to protect an agent within the loyalist terrorist group behind his death.

The investigation is now in its eighteenth month, and police assurances about catching the killers are hard to reconcile with reports the main suspects are still involved in serious crime, but remain free.

Martin O'Hagan, a married 51-year-old father of three daughters, was the popular investigative reporter with the northern office of the tabloid Sunday World newspaper, shot dead in Lurgan in September 2001, on his way home after a night out with wife Marie. He was secretary of the NUJ Belfast branch.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) representatives assured an NUJ delegation last autumn that every effort was being made to track down the killers, and the case had "the highest priority", but that insufficient evidence existed to charge individuals. Irish NUJ National Organiser Seamus Dooley has since said there were still real concerns that there seemed to be no progress, despite police assurances over resources and personnel.

One thing that has puzzled Martin's friends is the police announcement on the anniversary of his death that one person who they wished to question was "outside the jurisdiction". The Sunday World identified the "suspect", based on information from the inquiry's leading detective. The paper said he was in hiding among loyalists in Scotland.

But this "suspect" arranged to return to the north to be questioned at Lisburn police station. After two hours he was released without condition, and has effectively been ruled out of the inquiry. His interview brought to nine the number of people questioned, without any charges.

Reliable information surfaced, however, that on the weekend he was identified in the paper, this "suspect" was spotted in Lurgan reading the Sunday papers, arguably calling into question whether he was actively being sought, and whether police genuinely believed he played any part in the murder. The name was not among those circulated quickly after the murder.

Again, reliable information suggests there is another suspect still at large, whose house was searched in connection with the murder in October 2001, but who has also fled the north. The man, whose identity is being withheld, is said to have been connected to the Loyalist Volunteer Force's drugs operations.

More poignantly, a PSNI officer working as a liaison officer with Martin's widow Marie took his own life in Lurgan police station. There had been information this officer had been linked with threats against Rosemary Nelson, the Lurgan solicitor killed by loyalist terrorists in 1999. But this claim has been ruled out by informed sources, who attribute the man's death simply to tragic circumstances.

Two of the leading murder suspects are said to have been involved in recent shooting incidents in the confined area of the Mourneview estate, close to where Martin was killed. A number of sources claim that last summer the leading suspect and the individual suspected of burning the dummy getaway car on the night of the murder used shotguns to blast out windows from a luxury apartment complex in Lurgan, in an extortion bid. It is claimed they were videoed during the attack and that the tape was passed to police, but without further development.

Martin's friends are increasingly convinced someone within the LVF is an agent, working for the security services, and that no charges are being brought against Martin's killers to protect him. They point to the 1989 murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, when the leading RUC investigator was unaware for years that four of the five killers were security force agents at the time of the murder.

Perhaps now the investigation team is not aware that one of the suspects is a "tout". Martin's colleagues are asking why the plethora of security surveillance units have not apparently been deployed against the Lurgan LVF, especially as it has been engaged in a loyalist feud with the larger Ulster Defence Association, which left three dead and nine injured.

Martin O'Hagan, killed on 28 September 2001
Martin O'Hagan attending the trade union event to mark May Day 2001. Photo © 2001 Kevin Cooper
 
 
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