The parents of murdered father Gerard Lawlor are meeting senior investigators from the Police Ombudsman’s office today for the first time over new allegations that the PSNI police failed to act on information supplied by a witness.
The 19-year-old was murdered by the unionist paramilitary UDA in July 2002 as he walked home along the Antrim Road on the same night unionist death squads went on a rampage in north Belfast.
Another man, Jason O’Halloran, was seriously injured during a night of terror in north Belfast. His friend Jim Burns narrowly escaped injury, while another man escaped a subsequent attack when his would-be killer’s gun jammed.
To date no-one has been arrested for any of the attacks, despite admissions by PSNI chiefs that they know the names of Mr Lawlor’s killers.
A new report by the Ombudsman’s office contains information that proves beyond doubt that more than one murder squad was operational in north Belfast on the night.
The report follows a complaint by Mr O’Halloran that the police failed to carry out a thorough investigation into the attempt on his life.
“It was almost a month later before there was any attempt to get a statement from myself and Jim Burns and that was only because we made an appointment to go to Antrim Road station ourselves.
“After we made the statements we never heard another thing about the case.”
The Ombudsman’s report recommends police review their investigation.
Mr O’Halloran said he welcomed the recommendations but was disappointed that the Ombudsman did not acknowledge the failure to properly police north Belfast on the night of the shooting.
“If there had been any real effort on that night to properly police north Belfast I might never have been shot and Gerard Lawlor could still be alive today.
Meanwhile, the Lawlor family has now discovered that a new witness, who first made a phone call to the confidential telephone line and then later approached police in person.
John and Sharon Lawlor, along with Gerard’s partner Siobhan Ramsbottom, have asked the Police Ombudsman’s office to investigate a number of serious failures in the original PSNI murder inquiry.
Among their concerns is that evidence provided by the new witness that could have led to a possible conviction has been ignored.
It has also been revealed that ballistics reports have shown the gun used in the UDA murder attempt on Mr O’Halloran was not the same gun used to murder Mr Lawlor.
Mrs Lawlor said the family would continue to pursue the truth until her son’s killers were brought to justice.
“When Gerard died the PSNI had already taken over from the RUC, we were promised this new police service,” she said.
“But when you look at what happened afterwards it raises so many questions.
“We have never been kept informed, we have had to go out there looking for answers ourselves.
“But this is not the way this story is going to end. Gerard cannot speak for himself any more he only has us, his family, to keep fighting for justice and that’s what we fully intend to do.”
Patrick Murray of Kevin Winters solicitors said that although he welcomed Mrs O’Loan’s latest findings, her report did not go far enough to address the wider failings of police on the night.
Mr Murray, who represents Mr O’Halloran and the Lawlor family, said police had failed to follow up evidence and track down the perpetrators and that Mrs O’Loan must look at these matters.
“Collusion does not just cover the handing over of information that may lead to a person’s death. It also covers a deliberate failure to properly investigate and bring to justice those responsible,” he said.
“The investigation into Gerard Lawlor’s murder is the first real test of Nuala O’Loan’s office in that it is the first major investigation into the actions of police after Hugh Orde took control. The handling of this case by the ombudsman is one which the wider community will be watching with interest.”