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Brother of man 'shot dead' by Loyalist serial killer 35 years ago says 'we need answers'

It's against the laws of decency to leave a family in the dark for this length of time," Paul told the Sunday World.

Paul McAuley is still searching for justice for his brother, but fears that he will never get justice for 1987 Crumlin Road murder. Thomas McAuley (32) was shot dead by a loyalist gunman outside his café on the Crumlin Road in November 1987.

Hugh Jordan

The brother of a man who it is claimed was shot dead by one of the Troubles' most notorious serial killers has hit out over repeated delays in a long-awaited inquiry.

Paul McAuley says a Police Ombudsman's probe into his brother Tommy's murder 35 years ago by, it's believed, loyalist hitman Ken Barrett has been dogged by delays.

And now he is demanding to know exactly when he can expect to see the investigation completed.

"It appears there is still no end in sight and I want answers. It's against the laws of decency to leave a family in the dark for this length of time," Paul told the Sunday World.

He added: "We need answers and we need them now."

Cafe owner Tommy was gunned down on Remembrance Day 1987 and he died five days later in Belfast's Mater Hospital.

A former bus driver and a dad of two, 32-year-old Tommy set up his own retail food business positioned on the peaceline between nationalist Ardoyne and the loyalist Shankill.

From the outset, he vowed to serve both sides of the community, and he did.

Tommy McAuley pictured on the double decker bus, currently on display at the Ulster Folk Park and Transport museum. He was shot dead by the UVF at his cafe on the Crumlin Road in 1987.

Local people still remember Tommy as popular figure who made sure pensioners on both sides of the community were made to feel welcome in his premises. From virtually nothing he built a thriving business in a part of Belfast which had become an economic wasteland.

Tommy was also well known in the area as a dedicated fundraiser for charities which crossed the sectarian divide. On one occasion he helped raise £1,000 to aid children on a journey to Russia for sight-saving operations.

"It was Tommy's dream to own his own business and he wanted to show he viewed everyone the same. He was popular with all sections of the community. In fact they all loved Tommy," explained Paul.

"Tommy's idea was to make a change in this country. He just didn't care if someone was a Catholic or a Protestant or nothing at all."

But soon after opening for business, Tommy refused to pay so-called protection money to a man believed to have been the notorious loyalist killer Ken Barrett.

Loyalist sources have told us Barrett led a gang of loyalists into Tommy's Bon Appetite restaurant. He handed Tommy a typed letter demanding a weekly cash payment to a loyalist group.

Ken Barrett boasted about people he murdered

But Tommy told him: "I don't pay money to the IRA and I won't be paying you either."

A notorious UDA gunman, Barrett's name is synonymous with state collusion with loyalist paramilitaries. By his own admission he was part of the killer gang which claimed the life of lawyer Pat Finucane in 1989.

Barrett was one of the UDA's most zealous killers, and, after admitting under RUC interrogation that he had fired shots into Mr Finucane as he lay on the ground, he was recruited as a police agent.

He was later sentenced to life for the murder of Mr Finucane but was freed in 2006 after serving just three years. In secret recordings played at his trial, he said of murdering Mr Finucane: "I lost no sleep over it. All is fair in love and war. I have to be honest, I whacked a few people in the past."

Two years before the murder of Mr Finucane, Barrett approached Tommy for protection money but left the Crumlin Road cafe empty-handed. But it's claimed he returned two days later with a paramilitary murder gang.

Tommy McAuley was shot several times.

Tommy's younger brother Paul - who worked a bus driver - heard about the attack while driving his bus in Belfast. He rushed to the Mater where, despite his injuries, Tommy managed to tell him what happened.

Paul said: "Tommy told us all how much he loved us, but it's still heartbreaking to think he lost his life for nothing."

The Sunday World has learned that within minutes of the shooting the police were contacted by 10 individuals naming the gunmen involved.

And we have also been told five people were eyewitnesses to the shocking event.

As the killers made good their escape, their car was stopped by the security forces in nearby Tennent Street. But they were allowed to continue their journey without the vehicle being searched.

The lead gunman was present when police raided a loyalist bar a short time later, but he wasn't arrested or questioned. An inquest was later told the killing was sectarian and the gun used had a 12-year history linking it to a loyalist paramilitary group.

But no one has ever been charged with Tommy's murder.

Paul tried his best to pressurise the police over the case. But he got the impression he was banging his head off a brick wall.

"I went to see the police and was told the investigation was progressing, but it never did.

"I found out the case was closed three years after Paul's murder, but I wasn't told. That's wrong."

He later placed his trust in detectives from the Historic Enquiries Team, but again he was disappointed with the result.

"It was a disaster," said Paul.

Finally, Paul turned to the Police Ombudsman's Office for help, believing it would be able to get him the answers he so badly needed.

"A senior member of staff told me it would be 50 years before he would get information or I would get proper answers to my questions.

"There has been a persistent delay in our case. We were given excuses over funding and Covid and even a shortage of proper investigators to complete the case.

"Three times I've been told it will be completed in a matter of months, but still I've heard nothing," said Paul.

"It's very frustrating for all our family, because we put our trust in the Police Ombudsman's Office, but so far we've got nowhere."

The Police Ombudsman's office said in response to Mr McAuley's claims: "There are a significant number of investigations within the Police Ombudsman's History Directorate which have been affected by delays which no one would want.

"The Police Ombudsman's investigation into the murder of Tommy McAuley has been consolidated into a wider investigation of multiple deaths, which is due to recommence in 2022 and will examine complaints about police officer conduct in relation to murders attributed to loyalist paramilitaries.

"The findings of this investigation will likely not be made public for a number of years and it is possible that this investigation may be impacted by the UK government's legacy proposals."

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