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Black Friday Ex-Sunday World Northern Editor remembers night journalist Martin O'Hagan was murdered

"Martin's body was still warm on the ground, the blood which had poured out of seven bullet holes in his back pooled on the tarmac."

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Martin O'Hagan

Martin O'Hagan

Martin O'Hagan

It was late on the Black Friday evening of September 28, 2001 when Brian 'Barney' Rowan phoned me at home.

Barney had worked with us running the Ulster Press Agency, before leaving to become the Security Correspondent for BBC NI.

It wasn't unusual for us to exchange information after a terrorist shooting, bombing or other atrocity, especially when deadlines were looming.

I'd heard there'd been a shooting in Lurgan: Martin O'Hagan's home town. Nothing unusual about that.

The County Armagh town was a hotbed of strife: a place where, when you walked up the street, you could almost bite the sectarianism.

Brian was phoning about the shooting, fatal as it proved. And then came the bombshell. Barney sounded like he didn't want to ask. But he did.

'Jim,' he said, 'what age is Martin O'Hagan?'

Alarm bells didn't start ringing in my head, as the cliché goes. A time bomb started ticking, instead. I didn't really know Martin's age off the top of my head.

Then Brian said that although the police at that early stage weren't giving the victim's name, they were saying that the man "down on the street" was aged 51.

Brian then told me where the shooting had occurred. It was the road in which Martin lived with wife Marie and their three daughters. Both the age and the address synced. But I still didn't want to even countenance that.

'Jim, I think it's Martin,' said Barney quietly.

It was.

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Immediately, I went to Lurgan, to the quarantined spot on the road that the police had cordoned off with plastic tape.

The police knew who I was. They signalled me through. I ducked under the tape.

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Journalist Martin O'Hagan

Journalist Martin O'Hagan

Journalist Martin O'Hagan

Martin's body was still warm on the ground, the blood which had poured out of seven bullet holes in his back pooled on the tarmac.

I was white with shock and horror. And burning red with rage.

And then, even worse, just at this point an LVF mob haemorrhaged on a corner close to the fresh murder scene. They began an obscene, sectarian chant, the main crass chorus of which was "… another Fenian dead."

Despair was subsumed by searing anger. I went to move towards them. The police at the scene were already stretched, coping with the immediate aftermath of the murder. A uniformed officer put his hand on my arm. "Sir," he said, "Do you want a riot erupting here, with bricks and bottles flying over this lad's dead body?"

No. Definitely not.

Not with the terrible task still to be faced.

Going to the nearby O'Hagan home, to put my arms around a weeping widow who'd just witnessed her husband being shot dead in front of her.

Martin had been gunned down just 100 metres from his own front door.

He died a hero, protecting his wife Marie from the flying assassin's bullets of the LVF.

He'd been at his favourite pub that night, Fa' Joe's, in Lurgan town centre.

Marie was with him, enjoying a few Friday night drinks. It was only about half a mile from the bar to their home, a leisurely dander, or stroll. They decided to walk, as they often did.

But there was a spotter in the bar. A terror gang scout. He used a public phone in the pub to call his LVF boss as soon as Marie and Martin left.

Two brothers, Drew and Robin King, were waiting in a stolen car. One, Drew King, had taken over from Billy Wright as godfather of the Mid-Ulster LVF after 'King Rat's' murder in jail.

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Drew King

Drew King

Drew King

Indeed, known as 'The Piper', he had been the lone bagpiper at the terror czar's funeral.

With his brother, Robin King, ironically known as 'Billy', although born a Catholic in a different marriage from his kin, the pair had worked out a meticulous plan with their cohorts in a flat in Lurgan earlier that day, when the murder weapon had been produced and loaded.

The elder brother, 'The Piper', was to be behind the wheel for the Chicago- style drive-by shooting. The designated gunman was his younger brother.

Martin probably heard the car speeding up. Shooting started. He threw himself across Marie, covering her with the front of his body.

A salvo of bullets tore into his back, killing him almost instantly.

Orders Billy Wright had issued before his own assassination had been fatally and cruelly fulfilled. 'King Rat' had veered erratically from being evangelically Christian (allegedly), especially when incarcerated in jail, to being a drug dealing godfather.

After he himself had been ambushed and murdered on a prison visit bus by INLA godfather Christopher 'Crip' McWilliams and two other INLA henchmen, John Kennaway and John Glennon, on December 27 1997, he was found to have smuggled in drugs in his system.

But whether it was a religious vision or a drugs-induced premonition, Wright himself knew he was going, at some stage, to meet a violent end.

And I was later to learn, after Martin's murder, that Wright had used old testament biblical language to order the Sunday World man's killing... as revenge for his own death.

He told his killer cohorts: "If anything ever happens to me, it is to happen to Martin O'Hagan ten-fold."

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Billy Wright

Billy Wright

Billy Wright

Around 10.38pm on that Black Friday, Wright's vengeance on Martin O'Hagan was exacted... from beyond the grave.

And, much to my chagrin and regret, the LVF killers who stalked and shot dead our colleague, Martin, have never been brought to justice, either, in spite of us naming them numerous times in the Sunday World, often on the front page.

And the reason why they are still free on the streets and have escaped jail, in spite of being convicted of other criminal charges down the years?

For some reason, they are deemed, and see themselves, as 'Untouchables'.

But still not by me, or the Sunday World.

Even an incredible and shameful 20 years on, we are, and we will, continue to campaign for justice for Martin.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

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