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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 December 2006, 18:09 GMT
Coroner commends reporter bravery
Martin O'Hagan
Mr O'Hagan was known for his stories on paramilitaries and drug-dealers
A coroner has paid tribute to the bravery of murdered Sunday World journalist Martin O'Hagan.

Mr O'Hagan, 51, was shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries as he walked home from a pub in Lurgan, County Armagh with his wife in September 2001.

Mr John Leckey said he was satisfied Mr O'Hagan was murdered because he had been investigating loyalists who were dealing drugs in the mid-Ulster area.

No-one has ever been charged with the killing.

At the time, the murder was claimed by the Red Hand Defenders, a cover name used by both the Loyalist Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association.

Martin O'Hagan was murdered because of a vendetta from the grave
Jim McDowell
Sunday World
Mr O'Hagan had built a reputation for paramilitary and drug-dealing stories.

He had infuriated County Armagh paramilitary bosses, including murdered LVF leader Billy Wright, by exposing their crime and drugs rackets.

Chief Inspector Charles Patterson told the inquest in Armagh that he was confident the killers were among eight people interviewed following the murder.

"These people are associated with the LVF in the Lurgan area. Unfortunately, despite extensive investigations, I don't have the evidence to proceed against these persons."

Internally reviewed

The coroner appealed for anyone with information to pass it to police and Mr Patterson said he was prepared to take any information, however trivial it might be.

He said the inquiry into the murder remained alive but admitted it was not actively being worked on.

However, he said the case would be internally reviewed by the PSNI in the New Year and the O'Hagan family would be informed.

Mr Leckey noted Mr O'Hagan was the first journalist to be murdered in Northern Ireland but he said it was something which happened worldwide and pointed to the recent murder of a Russian investigative reporter.

He said Mr O'Hagan and others were "bravely seeking to expose criminals and sometimes with dreadful prices paid".

"Their bravery needs to be recognised," he added.

Earlier on Tuesday, Northern editor of the Sunday World Jim McDowell said it was time the murderers were caught.

Ombudsman inquiry

"There are an awful lot of theories about collusion. Martin O'Hagan was murdered because of a vendetta from the grave.

"Billy Wright, the founder of the LVF, left instructions that whatever happened to him was to happen to Martin O'Hagan. So his henchmen carried out that murder. That's my understanding of it."

He added: "The mechanism is there now in the Historical Inquiries Team to take a fresh look at that, get the file, look at the case and go after the murderers of Martin O'Hagan and bring them to justice, five and a quarter years down the line."

Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan has been asked to investigate the police inquiry.

The National Union of Journalists made the request after lobbying for renewed action on the case.

Mr O'Hagan left behind a wife, Marie, and four daughters.

Gordon Adair reports from the inquest

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01 Oct 01 |  UK News
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