Man shot dead in Belfast was suspect in Keane Mulready-Woods murder

Robbie Lawlor, shot dead in Ardoyne, was a Dubliner heavily involved in organised crime

 

The man shot dead in Belfast on Saturday was a Dubliner who was heavily involved in organised crime for well over a decade including the ongoing Drogheda gangland feud.

Robbie Lawlor (35) was suspected of ordering the murder and dismembering of Keane Mulready-Woods (17) in Drogheda earlier this year.

A resident of Co Meath but originally from Dublin, the PSNI and Garda believe Lawlor travelled to Belfast, possibly intending to collect debts, in the hours before being shot in the city just before noon on Saturday.

Lawlor was shot dead outside a house on Etna Drive in the Ardoyne area. The PSNI is following a definite line of inquiry. Three men were arrested on Saturday in connection with the shooting and a fourth on Sunday morning.

The Irish Times understands that at least some of the three men arrested had travelled to Belfast from the Republic with Lawlor.

As well as being a suspect for ordering the murder of Keane Mulready Woods, who was killed in Drogheda before his dismembered remains were found in different locations of north Dublin, Lawlor was a suspect for a number of other gangland killings.

He faced serious criminal charges last year but was not convicted. Lawlor had been warned his life was in danger and concerns he would be fatally attacked had grown since the start of this year.

Lawlor had been threatened on two fronts, including from one of the factions involved in the Drogheda feud.

Police forensic officers at the scene of a Saturday morning shooting at a house on Etna Drive in the Ardoyne area of Belfast. The PSNI confirmed one man died in the shooting. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Police forensic officers at the scene of a Saturday morning shooting at a house on Etna Drive in the Ardoyne area of Belfast. The PSNI confirmed one man died in the shooting. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

However, he was also at odds with a significant criminal on the Dublin gangland scene who has been linked to several murders including that of former dissident Republican leader in Dublin Alan Ryan.

Saturday’s shooting took place at a house on Etna Drive in the Ardoyne area shortly before and Lawlor was pronounced dead at the scene. A burned-out car was found nearby.

The three men arrested on Saturday on suspicion of murder were being questioned by detectives at Musgrave police station, PSNI said.

Police said the victim had been shot a number of times at close range at a house on Etna Drive.

Det Supt Jason Murphy said a murder inquiry has been launched into the “brutal killing”.

“I am astounded by the recklessness of the killer or killers,” he said. “Not only did they carry out this callous murder, leaving a family experiencing their worst nightmare, but they did not care that children and other members of this north Belfast community were placed at risk.

Police at Etna Drive in the Ardoyne area of Belfast, where a man has died in a shooting on Saturday morning. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire
Police at Etna Drive in the Ardoyne area of Belfast, where a man has died in a shooting on Saturday morning. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

“Murder is a heinous crime and killing someone during this global coronavirus pandemic is sickening when people are trying to adjust to living a new way and trying to cope with the pressures this brings.

“Those involved in this murder selfishly gave no thought to the impact on frontline emergency services who are already working hard to keep people safe with an already stretched resource.”

Det Supt Murphy said it was too early to speculate on the motive but confirmed the PSNI was following “a number of lines of inquiry”.

“A light-coloured car, registration YLZ 7052, was found burned out in nearby Kingston Court and I am currently seeking to establish what relevance this car has to my investigation,” he said.

“I know the community is in shock at the moment but I would appeal to anyone who has information about this appalling murder to bring that information forward to the police so that we can remove this dangerous gunman and his associates from the streets.

“I am aware the area was busy with pedestrians and people out in their front gardens so I am asking anyone who may have captured any footage of the incident to please make that available to us also.”

Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis said the murder was an abhorrent and brutal crime, for which there is no excuse. “This type of justice is never, and will never, be a substitute for policing and the force of law.

“This cowardly act is particularly thoughtless at a time when our frontline emergency services are already working incredibly hard to keep us all safe while dealing with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I strongly encourage anyone who has information about this despicable crime to come forward and speak to the PSNI.”

‘Senseless murder’

The North’s justice minister Naomi Long condemned the “senseless murder” and offered her sympathies to the man’s family.

There was a heavy police presence in the area on Saturday afternoon with lines of Land Rovers sealing off both ends of the street.

Ms Long said the incident had placed additional pressures on the health service already battling with the coronavirus pandemic.

“Those responsible for this appalling crime have left a family grieving and a community in shock,” she said.

“There is no place for the gun in our society and it is time to stop these attacks. “This appalling crime places additional pressures on our first responders, at a time when they are already dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and all of the challenges that brings with it.

“I would urge anyone with information to pass it to the police on the 101 number or to the Crimestoppers charity on 0800 555 111.”

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly similarly condemned the shooting and called for calm.

“I would appeal for calm at this time in the area and stress that anybody with any information about this horrific incident should bring it immediately to the PSNI,” he said.

“Actions like this have no place in our society and I repeat my condemnation of those involved.

“At a time when all frontline statutory agencies and indeed communities are doing what they can to fight against Covid-19, this just adds to the suffering unfortunately being experienced by local people at this time.”

SDLP north Belfast Councillor Paul McCusker said people in Ardoyne were in shock and he appealed for anyone with information to come forward to police.

“This brutal crime has cause immense shock in Ardoyne today,” he said. “A man was shot in a garden in this community in broad daylight. It’s hard to describe how traumatic this has been for people who were going about their business.

“My thoughts are with this man’s family at an incredibly difficult time.” – Additional reporting: PA