Major probe | 

Newry murder victim Mark Lovell was a suspected heroin dealer known as ‘The Chicken’

Earlier today, two men were arrested by detectives investigating the murder of Lovell.

Hugh JordanSunday World

Murder victim Mark Lovell was a suspected heroin dealer, the Sunday World has learned.

Known in border crime circles as ‘The Chicken’ – and who previously used the surname Hughes – he operated as a full-time distributor for a well-known drugs gang.

The 58-year-old was shot a number of times outside his home in the Ardcarn Park area of Newry last Thursday.

Earlier today, two men were arrested by detectives investigating the murder of Lovell.

The arrests follow searches of properties in the Newry area on Wednesday morning.

The two men, aged 45 and 40, were arrested on suspicion of murder.

Detectives also reiterated their appeal for anyone with information about the incident on December 1 to contact them on 101.

It comes as it emerged the decision to shoot the father of three and grandfather was taken by drugs gangs also involved in the sale of heroin in the border region.

But the Sunday Worldcan reveal the victim’s fate was sealed at a recent meeting of gang leaders from Newry and Armagh.

Insiders fear there could be further bloodshed amid rising tensions in the area.

Lovell’s savage killing was condemned by local representatives of the SDLP and Sinn Féin.

A cross-border drugs gang – with legitimate business connections in Newry – is believed to have been pushing for the assassination, which has left the entire Carnagatt community in shock.

“People around here thought all this type of thing was over,” one woman told us.

“We lived through the Troubles in Newry and we were rebuilding our lives. But now drugs gangs are among us and it appears we’re helpless to stop it,” she added.

Police at the scene of the fatal shooting

The brutal killing of Mark ‘The Chicken’ Lovell is the culmination of a growing campaign of violence aimed at wiping out a rival drugs gang.

In recent weeks a number of houses and properties in the Newry area have been attacked. And it is understood the violence is directly connected to ongoing tensions between drugs gangs.

“People don’t know where to turn. The dealers run the border,” said a local.

But the Sunday World learned that the decision to shoot Lovell – who was of Roma gypsy extraction – was taken around a month ago at a high-powered meeting of local drugs barons.

Dealers from Newry and south Armagh met in a hotel near to border to discuss drugs distribution and problems arising from the continued presence of the gang linked to Lovell.

And it was during this meeting that the plot was hatched to move against Hughes and his associates.

One of the main men pushing for action against Mark ‘The Chicken’ Lovell was a dealer from Newry.

And he is already the chief suspect in the double murder of Joseph Redmond and Anthony Burnett found in a burnt out car in the Ravensdale area of Co Louth.

Lovell became well known in the crime world in Ireland around 30 years ago when, shortly before Christmas, he and two others burst into the home of an elderly man in Comber, Co Down. One of the other criminals with him was Paul ‘Bull’ Downey – a future drug dealer who was later murdered by the IRA in the car park of Newry’s Canal Court Hotel.

The gang ransacked the property and stole a substantial sum of money from the terrorised and frail occupant. But as we discovered, their greed got the better of them.

The thieves also stole Christmas presents which were wrapped and piled high in the old man’s living room, which were later found in the home of one of them.

Mark Lovell’s 36-year-old son Ebony Hughes was also lucky to escape with his life when a killer gang moved on him in Newry town centre. But he escaped when he bolted through the Abbey Yard.

Since then Ebony Hughes has gone to ground and hasn’t been seen. Police released his picture and appealed for information on his whereabouts.

Yesterday, an elderly resident in south Armagh said: “It may sound mad but many people around here say life was better during the Troubles.

“At least then, we knew who the enemy was. But these days, the enemies are the sons of our friends and neighbours.”

The Sunday World has also learned heroin is now the drug of choice in the border region.

And the police in the area are believed to be struggling to contain the sharp increase in the sale of the ‘dirty drug’.

“Newry is awash with heroin and Killeen is the place for crack. But they say there’s now so much cocaine in south Armagh, it snows in the summer,” one source said.

And the Sunday World has also learned dealers around the border are paying an ‘operators’ tax’ to individuals with close links to a former IRA leader.

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