Loyalists attack murdered reporter's colleagues at court hearing.

Editor attending trial of reporter's alleged killers asks: 'What would happen if armed men stormed the court?'

Sunday 15th November, 2009

The Guardian

Colleagues of murdered journalist Martin O'Hagan have revealed how they were attacked by loyalist supporters of the men accused of killing the reporter. They also highlighted the dearth of security around one of Northern Ireland 's busiest courts when dissident republicans are targeting the judiciary.

A mob of loyalists smashed up a car belonging to Jim McDowell, the Sunday World 's Northern Editor, outside Craigavon magistrates court on Friday. McDowell and his colleague, Hugh Jordan, were inside the court at a remand hearing for five men, one of them a Catholic, who have been charged in connection with the loyalist killing of O'Hagan, the only journalist targeted and killed by terrorists during the Troubles.

It has emerged that no uniformed PSNI officers were on duty inside the Co Armagh courthouse last week even though those accused are allegedly linked to terror group the Loyalist Volunteer Force.

Speaking to the Observer , McDowell recounted how a mob descended on the court and threatened him and his colleague: "My car was in the car park of the courthouse, just yards from the steps leading into the building which is supposed to be at the heart of the legal system in this country.

"I had been in court reporting the latest stage in the bid to bring Martin O'Hagan's murderers to justice. Three of five men charged in connection with the journalist's slaying were in court.

"Nothing happened inside the courthouse unlike the first appearance at Lisburn court when another LVF goon took a picture of Hugh and myself on a mobile phone as if they didn't already know who we were.

"However, this latest pathetic attempt at intimidation didn't happen inside the court. It happened outside the Craigavon courthouse in broad daylight, blatantly at lunchtime on Friday.

"Hugh Jordan and I had just walked out to make phone calls. We heard a banging noise, like gunshots. Hugh looked down and said: 'Someone's attacking your car'." He said the attacker was then driven off in a car while the majority of the mob remained outside issuing threats to the two journalists.

McDowell said he was struck by the low level of security at the court even though days earlier judges and district judges in Northern Ireland had been warned that they were being targeted by the Real IRA.

"When I ran into the security annex at the courthouse manned by two civilians and asked them to call the police, they told me there was no direct line to the local cops. I had to stand in the annex myself and dial 999 on my mobile phone. What would happen if armed gunmen tried to storm and kill a judge in that, or any other similar courthouse?"

He said that the fact that the pro-LVF mob had smashed up his car in a court car park under the courthouse's CCTV cameras showed they could make "a fool of law and order in this country".

Andrew Robert King and Neil Hyde are charged with murdering Sunday World investigative reporter O'Hagan in September 2001. King's brother, Robin, is charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice, Nigel Leckey is charged with murder and possession of ammunition and Mark Kennedy, a 28-year-old Catholic from south Belfast, is charged with helping to facilitate the disposal or concealment of a getaway car. Along with Kennedy, the King brothers have been granted bail, while Hyde and Leckey remain on remand in prison.

O'Hagan was shot dead as he walked home with his wife from a pub in Lurgan, Co Armagh. The murder was claimed by the Red Hand Defenders, a cover name used by both the Loyalist Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association. The 51-year-old had built up a reputation for breaking stories about paramilitary and drug-dealing crimes.

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