Ombudsman to probe O’Hagan murder

Martin O'Hagan
Martin O'Hagan
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The NI Ombudsman has been called in to investigate the murder of Lurgan journalist Martin O’Hagan, murdered by loyalist more than a decade ago.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has said it is no longer in a position to ask a court to review the sentence given to a loyalist supergrass.

Neil Hyde received a reduced sentence of three years for his part in the killing of Mr O’Hagan in 2001 after he agreed to enter an ‘assisting offender’ agreement.

It had originally been 18 years.

In June, the PPS said it wanted a review on the basis he had breached his assisting offender agreement.

On Wednesday, the PPS issued a statement: “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 the PPS 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.”

Hyde was given an 18-year sentence in 2012 for conspiring to carry a firearm with intent to wound and other offences but this was reduced by 75% because of his co-operation under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.

He was given a further reduction for his guilty pleas resulting in a sentence of three years.

Mr O’Hagan, 51, was shot dead as he walked home from a night out with his wife 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.

Last year Hyde had his sentence for 48 LVF-linked offences cut from 18 years to three after he agreed to become an ‘assisting offender’ and help police.

But, in January the PPS announced its decision not to prosecute and several months later announced it was passing the case back to the court amid allegations that Hyde did not tell the full truth in his dealings with the authorities.

The PPS statement added: “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 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.”

Neil Hyde was prosecuted for a range of offences including conspiring to carry a firearm with intent to wound in connection with the murder of Mr O’Hagan.

He was the first journalist killed in the line of work in the history of the Northern Ireland Troubles.