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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 9 April, 2003, 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK
Loyalist killer gets 24 years
Michael McGoldrick
Michael McGoldrick was shot dead in July 1996
A County Armagh man convicted of the murder of a Catholic taxi driver in 1996 has been sentenced.

Clifford McKeown, 44, from Craigavon, was jailed on Wednesday for a minimum of 24 years for the murder of father-of-two Michael McGoldrick.

He showed no emotion as sentence was passed at Belfast Crown Court.

He was found guilty last month of the killing, which took place at the height of the Drumcree stand-off over an Orange Order parade in July 1996.

McKeown, who is already planning an appeal, is the first person in Northern Ireland to be told how many years of his life sentence he must serve before he can be considered for release.

He is already serving 12 years for possessing guns.

Mr Justice Weatherup described the murder as a "chilling execution" and said he considered there were "no mitigating factors" in relation to the offence or arising from McKeown's own personal circumstances.

He said the killing was arranged to "secure a random death based on religious persuasion".

He said Mr McGoldrick became a victim simply "by the chance of his taxi firm's rota".

"It was carried out in a cowardly manner on a dark roadway and the life of a young family man was stolen away in a manner designed to terrorise the community," said the judge.

"Birthday present"

Belfast Crown Court heard in March that the killing had been a "birthday present" for the then Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright, who was later murdered by the INLA in the Maze Prison.

Clifford McKeown
Clifford McKeown showed no emotion as sentencing was passed
Mr McGoldrick's body was found in his cab in a country lane at Aghagallon, several miles from Lurgan, a day after he had picked up a fare in the town.

He had been shot five times in the head.

The court heard McKeown, who had been waiting in another car, opened the back door of the taxi and fired four times into Mr McGoldrick's head.

He then fired one final shot to "finish him off", the court heard.

'No bitterness'

After the guilty verdict was delivered, the victim's father, Michael McGoldrick Snr, said he felt no bitterness towards his son's killer.

"The hurt in our country has to stop," he said.

"At the time I forgave those that murdered Michael and I still forgive them."

McKeown is a former loyalist "supergrass" (informer).

His brother Trevor was convicted of killing 18-year-old Catholic Bernadette Martin, who was shot in bed at her Protestant boyfriend's home in Aghalee, County Antrim in July 1997.

At that trial in June 1999, Trevor McKeown was found guilty of possessing the .22 Spanish Star pistol used to murder Ms Martin.

It was the same gun used to murder Michael McGoldrick.

BBC NI's Julian O'Neill:
"The judge said the killing had been a chilling execution"

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