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
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
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
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.