NO one will now be prosecuted over the murder of investigative reporter Martin O’Hagan more than a decade ago, it was revealed on Friday.
The 51-year-old journalist was gunned down in September 2001 as he walked home in Lurgan after a night at the pub with his wife Marie.
The decision not to proceed against four suspects formerly charged over the Sunday World reporter”s murder has been taken by Northern Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory.
The ruling has left the family of Mr O’Hagan “bitterly disappointed”.
Barra McGrory said that he had come to the conclusion not to have the four stand trial was made after a “careful consideration of all the available evidence”.
This included the testimony of Loyalist Volunteer man Neil Hyde who had agreed to turn ‘Queen’s Evidence’ against the four suspects in return for a reduced sentence.
“I know this decision will be disappointing to Mr O’Hagan’s widow, family, friends and colleagues but the evidence that can be given by an assisting offender must be carefully evaluated and the test for prosecution applied on a case by case basis,” said the DPP.
“Every case is different and the question whether the test for prosecution is met can only be determined on the merits of each individual case.
“The approach in this case has been assisted by the detailed consideration given by Mr Justice Gillen in his judgment in the case of The Queen v Haddock and others to the dangers of convicting on the uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice.
“The prosecution of any of the accused in this case would depend on the evidence of Neil Hyde.
“Having regard to all the circumstances it has been concluded that, in the absence of any corroboration, the available evidence is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction against any individual”.
Fintan O’Hagan, Mr O’Hagan’s brother Fintan said the family were now considering its option over the PPS deicison.
“There is a witness who wants to tell a court who killed Martin O’Hagan,” said Fintan O’Hagan.
“Yet the Public Prosecution Service are depriving that witness the opportunity of telling the court his account and further depriving the court of the opportunity to consider the truthfulness or otherwise of that evidence and depriving the family, and indeed the public, of the opportunity to see justice in action.
“Justice need not just be done, it needs to be seen to be done.”
The O’Hagan family’s lawyer, Niall Murphy, said they would be considering options including making representations to Northern Ireland attorney general John Larkin QC over an inquest and potential civil litigation.
Hyde, Nigel Leckey, and Drew Robert King were originally all charged with Mr O’Hagan’s murder
Nigel Leckey is also charged with possessing ammunition.
Two other men had been charged with lesser offences related to the killing. Drew King’s brother, Robin Andrew King, and Mark Kennedy, were charged with disposing of or concealing the getaway car. All denied the charges.
However, the charges against the King brothers, Leckey and Kennedy were later withdrawn by the PPS.
The PPS told the family that at the conclusion of Hyde’s case, it intended to issue summons to the other four to stand trial on the charges they had originally been accused of.
In January 2012, a court heard that Hyde, who had previously been accused of murdering journalist Martin O’Hagan, had agreed to co-operate with police investigating the LVF killing.
A lawyer for 32-year-old Hyde told Belfast Crown Court the Lurgan man has signed a contract to become an “assisting offender” under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.
He said he had offered the Crown “the very greatest assistance in relation to resolving the notorious killing”.
Mr O’Hagan, 51, was shot dead in Lurgan in September 2001.
The killing of the Sunday World reporter was claimed by the Red Hand Defenders, a cover name used by both the Loyalist Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association.
Lawyer Gordon Kerr QC said Hyde signed the SOCPA contract in return for a reduced sentence for 48 LVF-linked offences to which he has already pleaded guilty.
His address was given as c/o the Witness Protection Unit.
Mr Kerr said it was while Hyde was being questioned by detectives from the PSNI’s Retrospective Murder Review Unit in September 2008 that he confessed to a number of offences and formally agreed to help police six months later.
He has admitted to six charges relating to petrol bombs, nine of affray, drug dealing in cannabis and cocaine, five relating to arson, seven firearms offences, two charges of withholding information in relation to a murder and a wounding.
He has also pleaded guilty to robbery and attempted robbery, aggravated burglary, causing actual bodily harm and managing a meeting in support of the LVF.
All the offences occurred on various dates between 1 January, 1992 and 24 January, 2008.
Mr Kerr said Hyde had told police he was in a flat on the evening of the murder.
He said he had named the other people who were present and how a loaded gun was produced and that it later became evident that a shooting was going to take place.
Mr Kerr said Hyde insisted he left the flat unaware of the intended target and took no part whatsoever in the incident.
The lawyer said Hyde also told police what he knew about the murder of another man Graham Edward Marks in Tandragee in April 2001.
At the time police said they believed the killing was linked to a feud between the LVF and the UVF in the area.
Hyde’s lawyer said his client had “crossed the Rubicon” by co-operating with police and put himself and his family in danger for life.
He said his decision was the clearest possible indication of his remorse and his determination to turn his back on his previous life.
The lawyer urged Judge Patrick Lynch QC to give Hyde a suspended sentence in return for his promise of the ‘highest order of co-operation’ with the PSNI.
Hyde was subsequently sentenced to spend three years behind bars.
He was told by Judge Lynch that had he not agreed to identify the men alleged to have carried out Mr O’Hagan’s murder and give evidence about LVF activities, his sentence would have been 18 years.
His guilty plea also covered conspiring with Drew King and others to possess a handgun in September 2001, which is connected to the murder of 51-year-old journalist Mr O’Hagan, who was gunned down in front of his wife and two children 100 metres from his Lurgan home.
Hyde was recruited into the paramilitary group in 1996, and Judge Lynch QC said “by virtue of your size and propensity for violence, it appears that you were useful to the organisation as an enforcer and embarked on a career of sustained criminality over the next 15 years”.