Martin O'Hagan at Belfast May Day March: Photo © Kevin Cooper

Martin O’Hagan at a Belfast May Day March: Photo © Kevin Cooper

The National Union of Journalists has given a guarded welcome to the announcement that the police handling of the murder of Sunday World journalist and Belfast and District Branch member Martin O’Hagan is to be reviewed by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman. The union says the circumstances, which have led to the review, are “deeply disturbing” and highlight major defects in the original investigation and are cause for public concern.

Martin O’Hagan, a leading NUJ activist, was murdered in 2OO1. No one has been convicted of the murder. The Public Prosecution Service announced that it is not in a position to review the prison sentence handed down to so-called supergrass Neil Hyde. He had received a lenient prison sentence in return for co-operation with the RUC/PSNI investigation into the murder of the former Secretary of the NUJ Belfast and District Branch.  nujlogo_burgundy

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 years prison sentence in February 2012 for a range of offences. The judge made it clear that he would have received an 18 years 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.” PPSNI

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) confirmed that it is no longer in a position to ask the court to review the sentence it imposed on Neil Hyde for his involvement in the murder of Martin O’Hagan and other offences. In a statement (Wednesday 25th September 2013) it said that based on the initial evidence, the specified prosecutor in this case had concluded that the assisting offender had knowingly breached his agreement under section 73 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and that it was in the interest of justice that the case should be referred back to the original sentencing court.

However, following further examination of the evidence previously made available by police, extensive police enquiries and PPS consultation with the relevant witness, it is considered that the evidence which is now available is not sufficient to establish a breach of the agreement by Neil Hyde to the requisite standard. Accordingly there is no longer a basis to refer the matter to the court.

The court has therefore been informed that the PPS no longer seeks the review of the sentence. The Director (of Public Prosecutions) now intends to exercise his power under section 55 (4A) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 to refer the matter to the Police Ombudsman for investigation.

This story was covered in various media outlets, including RTÉ News, BBC News Northern Ireland, UTV News, by Gerry Moriarty in The Irish Times, Lurgan Mail by Carmel Robinson, News Letter, Belfast Telegraph and by Roy Greenslade in his blog in The Guardian.


Martin O'Hagan: Photo Kevin Cooper

Martin O’Hagan: Photo Kevin Cooper

Last week I wrote about the case of NUJ colleague Martin O’Hagan, shot dead by the LVF in Lurgan in September 2001. We remembered him and other journalists who had been killed in the course of their work during the IFJ Congress at Dublin Castle. In January the Northern Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory announced there was to be no prosecution regarding his killing.

Yesterday in Belfast (June 11th) there was an interesting development when, according to a BBC report, also carried on the RTÉ 6:01 news and on UTV, Mr McGrory revealed that the Public Prosecution Service has referred the case of  Neil Hyde back to court amid allegations that he did not tell the “full truth” in his dealings with the authorities. In January last year Hyde signed a contract with them under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act to become an “assisting offender”.

The loyalist supergrass testified against those allegedly responsible for murdering the Sunday World journalist. In return, his 18-year sentence was reduced to three years. He pleaded guilty to 48 offences, including drug dealing, arson, possession of firearms and withholding information in connection with Mr O’Hagan’s murder.

Mr McGrory told a news conference there was sufficient evidence that Hyde had knowingly breached the terms of his agreement. He added: “It’s in the interests of justice that the case be referred back to the original sentencing court.” Papers have been lodged and a judge will decide later this year whether Hyde broke his agreement and will review his sentence. It is believed to be the first time in the UK that a case of this type has been referred back to court.