The police handling of the murder investigation of Martin O’Hagan, the Sunday World journalist gunned down by loyalist paramilitaries in 2001, is set to be reviewed by the Northern Ireland police ombudsman.
According to the Belfast Telegraph, the move by the ombudsman comes after the Public Prosecution Service said it could no longer review a reduced jail term for “supergrass” Neil Hyde, who had agreed to name the gang responsible for O’Hagan’s murder.
In January, The Northern Ireland director of public prosecutions said that Hyde’s evidence would not be sufficient to secure convictions, even after he had received a shortenedd jail term for a range of offences linked to the Loyalist Volunteer Force.
The ombudsman will now investigate how the police handled the investigation.
The National Union of Journalists has given “a guarded welcome” to the news, adding that the “major defects” in the investigation should be a cause for public concern.
NUJ Irish secretary Seamus Dooley said: “The announcement that the director of public prosecutions has referred the investigation to the police ombudsman is a depressing reminder of the failure of the police to investigate properly and impartially the murder of Martin O'Hagan.
"A deal was done with Neil Hyde and he received a three year prison sentence in February 2012 for a range of offences. The judge made it clear that he would have received an 18 year sentence if he had not agreed to identify those involved.
"It subsequently emerged that his uncorroborated evidence was not sufficient to secure the conviction of suspects. The PPS now says there is no basis to refer Hyde's sentence back to the court. The 75 per cent reduction in his sentence for his co-operation under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (2005) will not be reversed and we are still waiting for justice.
"The director of the PPS is referring the investigation under section 55 of the Police (NI) Act 1998. We would give this development a guarded welcome but do not believe the ombudsman is capable of delivering the justice which Martin, his family, his co-workers and his union colleagues have been demanding since his brutal murder.”
O’Hagan, who had spent years chronicling the activities of Northern Ireland’s paramilitary groups for the Dublin-based Sunday World, was murdered as he walked home from his local pub in Lurgan with his wife.
The LVF-affiliated Red Hand Defenders claimed responsibility for the killing.
O’Hagan remains the only journalist killed by paramilitaries throughout the history of the troubles in Northern Ireland.