Irish Republican News · September 30, 2011
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Paper still targeted, ten years after O’Hagan death

A decade after the murder of crime journalist Martin O’Hagan by loyalist paramilitaries, his colleagues at the newspaper he worked for are still receiving loyalist death threats.

The latest threat to staff at the Sunday World came a few weeks ago when journalists were warned by sources in the loyalist community that the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) planned to send a parcel bomb to their newsroom. In total, 50 threats have been officially recorded.

No one has been brought to justice for the murder of O’Hagan, which took place ten years ago this week, a fact that Jim McDowell, editor of the Sunday World’s northern edition, claims would have sparked an international outcry if it had happened in Liverpool, Manchester or London.

“We feel like we have been fighting a lone battle for the last 10 years,” said McDowell.

Asked why there has been relatively little progress in the case, McDowell replied bluntly: “Informers - or as we call them in this part of the world, touts. State agents who are a protected species.”

O’Hagan was shot dead in front of his wife, Marie, on the night of 28 September 2001, after the couple had enjoyed an evening at a pub in Lurgan. The journalist had been spotted in the bar by a Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) sympathiser who phoned contacts in the murder gang to say O’Hagan was in the pub. As the couple walked home after closing O’Hagan was ambushed and shot up to seven times while he tried to shield his wife from the bullets.

Attention focused on five members of the LVF, including two brothers: one allegedly fired the shots, the other allegedly drove the getaway car. The Sunday World has consistently named the five as the key suspects in the murder. This naming has brought further death threats and physical attacks on the paper’s journalists; LVF supporters assaulted McDowell outside Craigavon courthouse last year.

The murdered reporter’s friend, the Sunday World’s news editor, Richard Sullivan, says no one at the paper has escaped the death threats as it continues to expose the so-called ‘para-mafia’ in the North -- former paramilitaries who have moved into drug dealing and other “ordinary” crimes.

“There is not a single person in this building who either individually or collectively hasn’t escaped these 50 threats, all of which were relayed to us by the police,” Sullivan said.

McDowell and Sullivan are adamant that the gang responsible for O’Hagan’s death were - or still are - working for one of the British Crown forces.

John Kampfner, chief executive of the ‘Index On Censorship’ organisation, describes the killing as “not just a low point in the Northern Ireland conflict but in the history of democracy, and a free press on these islands.”

He added: “The failure to prosecute or properly investigate the Sunday World’s claims that state forces were involved in the killing is an embarrassment.”

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© 2011 Irish Republican News