Systematic and repeated failures by the PSNI police led to the murder of a Catholic teenager in north Belfast, a new investigation into the shooting has revealed.
A panel of legal and academic professionals that examined evidence relating to the loyalist killing of 19-year-old Gerard Lawlor in 2002 insisted it could have been prevented if the PSNI had done their job properly.
The experts conducted a community inquiry into the killing, commissioned by the Lawlor family’s legal representatives.
The report was compiled by Jane Winter, the director of British Irish Rights Watch, Professor Bill Rolston, director of the Transitional Justice Institute at the University of Ulster, and Gemma McKeown, a solicitor for the Committee on the Administration for Justice (CAJ).
Their findings have no legal basis, but have prompted the teenager’s parents John and Sharon to demand a fresh PSNI investigation.
The panel said the PSNI did not do enough in response to a series of murder bids by loyalists in the same area in the hours before Mr Lawlor was gunned down.
They said serious deficiencies in the subsequent investigation of the murder, namely failures to interview potential witnesses and suspects and take appropriate forensic measures, amounted to collusion.
The sectarian murder by the UDA was one of the first investigated by the rebranded ‘Police Service of Northern Ireland’, which had changed its name from the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) months earlier.
The panel said the Lawlor investigation was a litmus test for the PSNI to see if policing had changed in the North, and said it was a test it had “demonstrably failed”.
The young father-of-one was shot dead just after midnight on July 22nd, 2002 as he walked home in Glengormley after a night out.
Two men on a motorbike pulled up beside the gaelic footballer and shot him three times. No-one has ever been brought to justice for the killing.
Catholics had been targeted in four other random attacks in the two hours prior to the murder.
The inquiry team claimed that the PSNI did not “lift one finger” to prevent the escalating series of incidents, such as mount road blocks.
“By failing to look at the overall picture of what was happening that night, they failed to treat it for what it was: a loyalist rampage hell-bent on killing Catholics, or, to use the police’s own term, a major incident,” the report found.
Gerard’s father John said the family felt it had no other option but to pursue a community inquiry because they were not getting answers from the state.
“It’s up to the police now to review the case or open it up as a new investigation,” he said.
Mr Lawlor said he retained hope that justice would be done. “You have to have belief in the system — that’s the whole point of having one rule of law,” he said.
The teenager’s mother Sharon said the lack of convictions was a source of great anger.
“As the years go on you build up anger through pure frustrations and you get to this stage you are driven by it,” she said.
“Everybody seems to know who these people are, people know what happened but the PSNI and the (Police) Ombudsman, they don’t seem to be getting the whole story that everyone in the street seems to be getting and that frustrates me big time.” She described her son as a “big, happy-go-lucky fella”.
“He loved life, loved everything, loved his son who was only one and a half when he died,” she said.
“He had a lot to live for. He was just beginning his life really, just beginning.”