Journalist Martin O’Hagan was gunned down in the street for exposing the drug-dealing activities of a unionist paramilitary gang, an inquest has heard.
The 51-year-old Sunday World reporter was shot three times as he walked home hand-in-hand with his wife from a pub in Lurgan, County Armagh.
More than five years later the killers have not been charged, although a senior PSNI police officer told the inquest in Armagh yesterday that he was satisfied eight unionists linked to the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) were responsible.
Coroner John Leckey said he was satisfied with the police theory that the murder was related to O’Hagan’s investigative journalism in relation to the LVF in the mid-Ulster area.
Branding the LVF a sinister organisation, he also said a number of newsagents in the area had stopped selling the Sunday paper after being threatened.
Mr Leckey said Mr O’Hagan and others were “bravely seeking to expose criminals, and sometimes with dreadful prices paid”.
“Their bravery needs to be recognised,” said Mr Leckey.
The murdered journalist’s wife Marie said they had been walking home through Lurgan when she noticed a car slowing beside them.
She said her husband pushed her into a hedge and she heard a number of shots.
She turned and his last words to her as he slumped to the ground were: “Marie, get an ambulance.”
Mrs O’Hagan said she ran to her nearby house and got one of her children to make the call. “I ran back and Martin was lying on his back. I knelt down to speak to him, he seemed unconscious. I continued talking to Martin but got no response.”
Mrs O’Hagan said in the early 1990s her husband had been forced to move to his newspaper’s Dublin office because of threats against him. She had remained in Lurgan and he returned to her after a “ceasefire” was announced by the LVF and related organisations.
PSNI Chief Inspector Charles Patterson told the inquest Mr O’Hagan’s killers walked the streets freely despite him being certain who was responsible.
He said the inquiry was alive but was not actively being worked on and he did not have enough evidence to bring charges.
Jim McDowell, northern editor of the Sunday World, called for the review of the case to be held urgently: “It should be thorough and done with vigour and rigour.”