The manner in which the family of murdered Sunday World journalist Martin O’Hagan has been treated by the authorities is “nothing short of appalling”, Belfast solicitor Niall Murphy has said.
A vigil marking the 20th anniversary of the investigative reporter’s death saw relatives, journalists and trade union representatives gather outside the Police Ombudsman’s offices in central Belfast on Tuesday. Another was held in Derry.
The 51-year-old, a father of three daughters, was shot as he was walking home from a night out in Lurgan, Co Armagh with his wife Marie on September 28th, 2001 by a suspected Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) gang.
He had written extensively about the drug-dealing and criminality of the LVF and about its leader Billy Wright, who was known as ‘King Rat’.
Mr Murphy alleged at the vigil, organised by the National Union of Journalists, that a “web of deceit was spun” to ensure that a witness who wanted to name the killers in court was unable to do so.
He was referring to loyalist supergrass Neil Hyde, whose 18-year sentence for his part in the murder of Mr O’Hagan was reduced to three years after he agreed to testify against the LVF killers.
Could not be trusted
The trial of the chief suspects was due to go ahead in 2013 but was aborted after the North’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) ruled that Hyde’s evidence could not be trusted.
Mr O’Hagan’s brothers, Fintan and Desmond, according to Mr Murphy, have a “long-standing complaint” with Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson over how the PSNI conducted the murder investigation and how Hyde ultimately could not give evidence and name the killers in court.
The ombudsman has told the family that her investigation should be completed within three months but that she could not say when her report would be published. Her office described the investigation as “complex and protracted”.
A spokesman for the ombudsman said her initial investigation was completed in 2018 but that shortly thereafter “new and potentially relevant information was obtained by the office” which also had been shared with the PSNI.
“Our investigators are nearing the completion of these additional enquiries. Once these have been concluded, the Police Ombudsman will be provided with a final investigation report and will commence work on publishing her findings,” he said.
Fintan O’Hagan said he was glad that his brother’s colleagues had turned out to remember him but he expressed “frustration” with the police investigation and the time it was taking for the ombudsman’s inquiry to conclude.
Referring to the 1996 murder of journalist Veronica Guerin, he said the government in the State “rightly changed the law and constitution” so that John Gilligan and other members of his gang could be prosecuted for the killing.
“Why is my brother less important than another journalist in another jurisdiction and why has this jurisdiction not done more?” he asked.
Mr O’Hagan said he believed the failure to prosecute the killers boiled down to police agents in the LVF linked to the killing were being protected.
The PSNI has previously defended how its investigation was conducted.
Mr O’Hagan said he suspected the authorities were “running the clock down” so that there would be no truth or justice for his brother.
“But we are not letting this go,” he said. “We are going to keep chiselling away at this.”
Among those journalists at the demonstration were current and former Sunday World journalists including its former Northern editor Jim Campbell, who was badly wounded when the Ulster Volunteer Force tried to murder him in 1984. He had written about the UVF in mid-Ulster and about its notorious leader, Robin ‘the Jackal’ Jackson.
“I worked with Marty for many years,” said Mr Campbell. “I don’t think there will be any justice for him until the politicians and policemen who know exactly what happened come out and tell the truth.”
He added: “Marty wasn’t afraid to take scalps. He was very brave. He interviewed people that others were afraid to.”
Another colleague and former Northern editor of the Sunday World, Jim McDowell, said “everyone” knew who killed Martin O’Hagan and that his paper previously had named the alleged killers and there had been no successful libel cases thereafter.
He supported the NUJ and Amnesty International in their call for an independent international inquiry into Martin O’Hagan’s murder.
Mr McDowell also referred to the prosecution of the killers of Ms Guerin, and added that the PSNI appeared to be making progress in t\heir investigation into the Real IRA murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Derry in April 2019.
“What has happened to Marty? Why the vacuum after 20 years?” he asked.