Case against suspects in O'Hagan killing collapses
The case against up to eight suspects in connection with the murder of Sunday World journalist Martin O’Hagan has collapsed, it was announced in Belfast yesterday.
The North’s Public Prosecution Service said it would not be bringing anyone before the courts on the basis of evidence supplied by “assisting offender” Neil Hyde (33), himself a suspect who turned queen’s evidence.
Four people apart from Mr Hyde had been charged in connection with the shooting dead of Mr O’Hagan (51), by loyalist paramilitaries in Lurgan on September 28th, 2001, while another four had been suspects.
At the time, the murder was claimed by Red Hand Defenders, a name that has been used by both the Loyalist Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association.
It is the second time in a year that a major legal investigation has collapsed on the basis of so-called “supergrass” evidence. Nine men, including senior north Belfast loyalist Mark Haddock, were last February acquitted of murder after a judge dismissed the evidence of a former accomplice.
The Haddock case was cited yesterday by the Director of Public Prosecutions in the North, Barra McGrory, as being influential in reaching the decision on the O’Hagan case.
At a press conference, Mr McGrory said the findings of Mr Justice Gillen in the Haddock case revealed the “dangers of convicting on the uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice”.
He added: “I know this decision will be disappointing to Mr O’Hagan’s widow, family, friends and colleagues in the press, but the evidence that can be given by an assisting offender must be carefully evaluated and the test for prosecution applied on a case-by-case basis.” The fact that there was no supporting evidence for Hyde’s claims was the main problem, he said.
“The prosecution of any of the accused in this case would depend on the evidence of Neil Hyde. Having regard to all the circumstances it has been concluded that, in the absence of any corroboration, the available evidence is insufficient.”
Hyde was arrested and charged with the murder of Mr O’Hagan in 2008. Shortly afterwards he offered to become an “assisting offender”.
Under the deal, he was prosecuted for a string of LVF-related offences including conspiring to carry a firearm with intent to cause grievous bodily harm (in connection with the murder of Mr O’Hagan).
Three years’ jail
Under normal circumstances the 48 crimes would have carried a substantial prison sentence, but he was sent to jail for just three years in February 2011. Mr McGrory yesterday confirmed that Hyde’s sentence will now be reviewed.
The renewal of so-called supergrass trials, which had been discredited after extensive use in the 1980s, has come about with the introduction of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act in 2005.