NUJ media release

Wednesday, 31 March 2004

Murdered reporter’s notes deciphered

IN SPITE of PSNI assurances to the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) that the journalistic material of murdered reporter Martin O'Hagan had been returned to his family, the Irish Star has learnt some of it is now being used by the PSNI to probe another high-profile case.

The Irish Star has learnt that the PSNI has admitted some of O'Hagan's journalistic material, including notebooks, has been deciphered.

And the deciphering of the notebook material is "at an advanced stage" according to a letter from the top cop heading up the Omagh bomb probe.

Some of his colleagues have concerns about the possibly sensitive nature of the material in his notebooks being in the hands of the police, as much of O'Hagan's investigations dealt with suspected security force collusion with paramilitaries.

O'Hagan was shot dead close to his home in Lurgan in September 2001. Although ten local people have been quizzed about the killing, all were released without charge.

His murder was claimed by the Red Hand Defenders, "for crimes against the loyalist people", a cover name and excuse used by loyalist groupings for "deniable" murders.

The 51-year old father of three had often specialized in exposés of security force collusion with loyalist and republican paramilitaries. He was planning fresh revelations about a series of controversial murders, some of which are now the subject of probes by investigators from the Police Ombudsman's office.

However, PSNI detectives probing his murder felt he had been killed by LVF members who had taken an opportunity to settle old scores.

Martin's murder led to a meeting between his colleagues in the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and leading PSNI officers in September 2002.

The high-level meeting was to discuss progress in his case and also the rising level of threats to journalists by paramilitaries, and took place on Friday 20 September at Mahon Barracks, Portadown.

When asked about the whereabouts of Martin's journalistic material and notebooks, the NUJ was given to understand Martin's shorthand had been undecipherable, and as a result was returned to his family.

A member of the NUJ delegation last night told The Star: "Police assured the delegation that the journalistic material had been returned and that Martin's notes had been indecipherable, because his shorthand was highly personalised and unreadable."

Now it appears some of Martin's journalistic material has been deciphered and is being used to assist detectives probing the Omagh bombing, which killed 29 people and unborn twins in August 1998.

This was confirmed when letters from the leading Omagh detective were shown to The Star.

One letter, dated 16 December 2002, a full three months after the NUJ meeting, from Detective Chief Superintendent Norman Baxter, to Lawrence Rush, who lost his wife Libby in the horrific Omagh blast, states:

Dear Mr Rush,

Mrs O'Loan, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has contacted me on 12.12.02 in relation to a number of issues which you raised with her.

I was unaware of the possibility that the late Martin O'Hagan was in possession of information relevant to the Omagh murder inquiry. I have allocated officers to speak to detectives from the investigation team inquiring into Mr O'Hagan's murder, to identify all documentation and to examine it for information relevant to my investigation.

When my enquiries are complete I will inform you of the outcome.

Mr Rush has confirmed he contacted Mrs O'Loan's office in the Spring of 2002, as he strongly suspected O'Hagan had information which may have been of use to the Omagh detectives.

But a fourth letter seen by The Star, dated 24 January 2004, also from DCI Baxter to Mr Rush deals with Mr Rush's concerns about a range of issues relating to the Omagh bombing.

But he concludes: "Finally, I can confirm that the deciphering of material belonging to the late Mr O'Hagan is at an advanced stage. Yours N Baxter".

The news that his notebooks have in fact been deciphered was last night welcomed by Jane Winter, director of British Irish Rights Watch: "It is very interesting in relation to the Omagh bombing.

"Martin O'Hagan was a fearless investigative journalist and we hope that his notebooks may also be useful in providing leads to other investigations, including his own."

A PSNI spokesman told The Star last night: "We do not discuss evidence which we may or may not have acquired or examined as part of an ongoing investigation."

Martin O'Hagan, killed on 28 September 2001
Martin O'Hagan attending the trade union event to mark May Day 2001. Photo © 2001 Kevin Cooper
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