Serving Judas, Not Justice

By Anthony McIntyre (for the Blanket)

We met close to the offices of the Sunday World, the site where our late colleague Marty O’Hagan had plied his trade before his murder at the hands of a Lurgan drug dealing gang known as the Loyalist Volunteer Force. We then made our way across a sunny Belfast on our journey to the PSNI headquarters at Knock Road. Along the Newtownards Road, Sandown Road and onto the Kings Road before making the final turn for Knock. It was a journey I was familiar with, having beat the same track for three years on the no. 20 Tullycarnet bus while a pupil at St Patrick’s College, Gilnahirk. As much as I disliked school, the journey in those tender years had a destination considerably less bleak than the current one.

It was the 5th anniversary of the death of Marty O’Hagan. The Belfast and District branch of the NUJ, of which Marty was a member, dismayed by any progress in the case, had opted to submit a letter of protest to the PSNI outlining our concerns. We stood outside the main building. The numbers were disappointing, there being only four of us. The PSNI sent no one out to receive our letter.

It seemed a gesture of contempt. Having had to fork out a considerable financial sum to the aggrieved journalists, Liam Clarke and Kathy Johnston, as recompense for having bulldozed through their rights, the PSNI probably felt a snub of the journalist union was a useful way of poking those who queried it in the eye without fear of having to dig deeper into its pockets. Under its current management the PSNI is not renowned for its healthy regard for journalism. Progress has been made in lots of areas but its attitude towards journalism is one field where the force has regressed. Its refusal to display the minimal courtesy of sending a representative to receive our letter carried with it a subliminal message; one of yawning indifference to the case of Marty O’Hagan.

As if to add insult to injury a bin lorry pulled up in front of our group. Its engine revved and temporarily drowned out any exchange between the branch chair, Kevin Cooper, and media outlets seeking to interview him. The moment passed but it set the scene; our concerns were being rubbished.

Having hoisted the union banner and deposited our letter into the faceless receptacle at Knock, we made we made our way back across town. Mick Brown dropped me off at the dentist in West Belfast. Lying on the couch my mind drifted to the PSNI disdain for our legitimate protest. It was more irritating than the mild pain from the drill and the injections to freeze my mouth. Two sets of people it seemed were intent that day on freezing the mouths of journalists.

Due to my dental appointment I missed the letter being handed into the police ombudsman’s office in downtown Belfast. The treatment being unusually quick, however, enabled me to make it down to Transport House for the branch meeting. This time there were more of us. Marty’s colleagues from the Sunday World had swollen the numbers to hear the paper’s long standing editor, Jim McDowell, deliver a pugnacious tirade against his killers. Earlier he had stated that the paper was aware of the identities of two of those who carried out the murder and urged the police to do more.

Elsewhere, going further than McDowell, the Press Gazette claims to have been furbished with the names of six people involved in the murder. Although the PSNI have all this information in their possession, McDowell’s colleague at the Sunday World, John Keane has gone to the heart of the matter when he said:

I’m convinced that some of the people involved in this murder are present or former special branch agents, and the reason they have not been charged is because if they were in the witness box they would spill the beans on crimes they were involved in that were instigated by the Special Branch.

Outside of the Belfast branch, the NUJ has been trying to apply pressure. Its Irish secretary general, Seamus Dooley has written to Peter Hain expressing his grave concern at the lack of progress to date. In his letter Dooley made it clear that the PSNI ‘is not in a position to fully investigate this murder’ and went on to call for the investigation to be taken up by an outside force.

The PSNI in parrying the allegations levelled against it argues that it has followed 2000 lines of inquiry and made eight arrests. But ever mindful of the way the UVF was allowed to murder at will while in the pay of the police there are strong grounds for suspecting that the PSNI would not commit to custody those responsible were they to make 800 rather than eight arrests. Protecting Judas, it appears, is prioritised over pursuing justice.

There is an acceptance that the rights of everyone to a fair trial must be upheld and that people must not be prosecuted on evidence that does not match or is concocted. But it remains far from clear that the absence of evidence is preventing a proper resolution of the O’Hagan murder. It has now moved beyond the point where there is any hope of Marty O’Hagan’s killers being hauled before the courts by the PSNI. Future investigation of his death should be conducted on two levels; against those who carried out the murder; and against those who let them run loose for five years after his death. If the PSNI were to conduct such an investigation, the NUJ will be handing in letters protesting the lack of progress on the 10th anniversary of Marty O’Hagan’s murder, while his killers and their handlers exchange knowing smiles over a bevy purchased by 30 pieces of silver.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News