United Kingdom - Northern Ireland26 September 2003
Two years after Martin O’Hagan’s murder, the investigation is at a standstill
On the eve of the second anniversary of the murder of Irish investigative journalist Martin O’Hagan on 28 September 2001 in Northern Ireland, Reporters Without Borders today voiced deep concern about the lack of progress in the police investigation, which has ground to a complete halt.
In a letter to the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy, the organisation urged the authorities to appoint a new team of investigators, independent of the police of Lurgan in County Armagh, where O’Hagan was gunned down outside his home, and to deploy all human and financial resources necessary to ensure a thorough and transparent investigation.
"The impunity enjoyed by Martin O’Hagan’s murderers is an insult to the memory of this journalist, who was killed for doing his job," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in the letter. "The feeling of impunity that has taken hold poses a real danger for Irish journalists, who are the target of increasing threats and harassment from the paramilitary groups," he warned.
"The inability of the police to identify those responsible is a threat to press freedom, and the growing vulnerability of journalists is liable to foster widespread self-censorship," Ménard added.
According to the police, eight suspects have been detained and then released for lack of proof. Thirty-two searches have also been carried out, but with no results to show for them. The investigation is at a standstill, but has not been closed.
The police reject claims that senior security officials fear that their alleged links with the paramilitary groups would be exposed if O’Hagan’s killers were brought to justice. But some journalists claim that the investigation has been deliberately blocked because an informer or an agent for the security or intelligence services was part of the group that killed O’Hagan.
Mick Browne, a former colleague of O’Hagan who has investigated the murder, maintains that an officer now in charge of the police enquiry was himself the target of an investigation by O’Hagan.
According to the Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Seamus Dooley, death threats against journalists have increased since O’Hagan’s murder, most of them coming from loyalist paramilitary groups. Several journalists with the Sunday World, the Irish weekly O’Hagan worked for, and the Andersonstown News Group have been the target of intimidation.
On 12 September, a photographer with the North Belfast News, a weekly that belongs to the Andersonstown News Group, received a death threat from a loyalist paramilitary gang. The group’s management said it followed a series of threats against journalists covering the gang’s activities.
Aged 51 and the father of three children, O’Hagan used to write for the Sunday World about the links between the Northern Irish police, military intelligence units, armed groups and drug gangs, and he testified in a libel court case about allegations of collusion between the police and Protestant armed groups in the 1980s.
The day after his murder, a caller to the BBC claimed responsibility on behalf of the "Red Hand Defenders," a name used by loyalist paramilitary groups, especially the "Loyalist Volunteer Force" (LVF). O’Hagan had previously been the target of many threats as a result of his investigations aimed at proving that loyalist militia, especially the LVF, killed Catholics with the sole aim of covering up their drug trafficking activities. An abortive attempt to killed him in the early 1990s was attributed to loyalist terrorist Billy Wright.