Those thought to have been involved in the murder of a Catholic cafe owner in 1987 were never questioned by RUC (now PSNI) police, despite being identified by a witness, it has emerged.
Tommy McAuley was gunned down in his north Belfast shop and died in the Mater Hospital five days later. In the days leading up to his murder he had been approached by loyalists linked to the UDA who wanted ‘protection money’ for his north Belfast cafe.
A Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report released this week revealed that RUC detectives chose not to arrest those who fled the scene of the murder even though their identities were known.
Three men seen making their getaway were identified by a witness who told the RUC she was confident that she could pick at least two from a line-up.
The following day two men fitting the same description and known associates of the loyalist who approached Mr McAuley for protection payment were stopped by RUC on the Shankill Road, spoken to but not arrested.
Anonymous calls made to a confidential telephone line also linked two of the suspects -- who are still alive and believed to living in north Belfast -- to Mr McAuley’s murder.
The gun used was forensically linked to 10 loyalist shootings, including three murders.
The McAuley family have now contacted the Police Ombudsman with a view to having the investigation re-examined.
The murdered businessman’s younger brother Paul said it is incomprehensible that not one of the suspects has been questioned.
“The HET discovered a female eyewitness told police she was confident she could identify at least two of the gunmen,” Mr McAuley said.
“This woman was brave enough to come forward at a time when north Belfast was plagued with sectarian attacks.
“The family cannot thank her enough for doing the right thing by contacting police in 1987.
“However, we were horrified to find that despite this important lead no action was taken to follow the information up and arrest the suspects.
“The men responsible for killing my brother -- for no other reason than he was a Catholic -- are still tree and walking the streets.
“We will be asking the ombudsman to look at the RUC handling of the investigation and make recommendations that would allow this to become a live murder investigation.”
Mr McAuley said despite 20 years having passed, his mother and father “died broken-hearted” and visited the popular businessman’s grave every week.
“Not a day went past that my mother didn’t shed a tear for her murdered son,” he said.
“Tommy’s wife was left alone to raise their two children who grew up without the love of their father.
“My brother was a gentleman. He was my mentor growing up. He was known for his charity work and hadn’t a sectarian bone in his body.
“As his brother I feel it is my duty to pursue every available opportunity to try and get justice for him and all of us left behind who loved him.”