Martin O’Hagan, a 51-year-old investigative journalist with the Dublin newspaper Sunday World, was shot and killed outside his home in the Northern Ireland town of Lurgan on September 28, 2001.
O’Hagan was shot several times from a passing car while walking home from a pub with his wife, who was not hurt in the attack, according to news reports, which said that the vehicle used in the attack was found on fire not far from the scene.
O’Hagan, who worked in the Belfast office of the Sunday World, was an Irish Catholic journalist who had become well known for his coverage of both Catholic and Protestant paramilitary groups.
The Red Hand Defenders, which police consider a cover name for Protestant militants from the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) and the Ulster Defense Association, claimed responsibility for the killing. After the killing, police identified the LVF as a primary suspect.
Prior to his murder, O’Hagan had been working on several stories about the LVF, the BBC reported. Colleagues believe the LVF targeted O’Hagan for exposing the narcotics network they controlled, as well as assassinations and intimidation rackets they orchestrated.
More than 20 years before his death, before he became a journalist, O’Hagan was convicted of running guns for the Irish Republican Army and served five years in prison. He later turned away from radical politics, studying sociology at the Open University and the University of Ulster and then entering journalism as a freelancer for local newspapers. His connections in both Catholic Republican and Protestant Loyalist circles, as well as in the British security forces, gave him unusual insight into the conflict but also made him a target for paramilitary reprisals.
In 1989, he was kidnapped and interrogated by the Irish Republican Army, which tried unsuccessfully to force him to divulge his sources, and in the early 1990s he was forced to flee to Dublin after receiving death threats from a top loyalist gunman. O’Hagan returned to Belfast in 1995 after most paramilitary groups had declared ceasefires.
In 2008, four men allegedly connected to the LVF were charged with the murder, but in 2010 the prosecution withdrew those charges citing problems with of the credibility of a witness, according to reports.
In 2012, one of these four suspects, Neil Hyde, was sentenced to three years in prison for withholding information in relation to a O’ Hagan’s murder, as well as drug and firearms charges. In 2013, Hyde agreed to name those who were responsible for O’Hagan’s killing, but prosecution dismissed his testimony as unreliable, news reports said.
On March 1, 2022, the BBC’s Spotlight program quoted unnamed security sources saying that police were given names of people said to have been involved in the killing within 48 hours of O’Hagan’s murder, but did not act on the information. Following the program, a statement by the National Union of Journalists called for an independent international investigation into the killing.
CPJ emailed questions to the press department of the Police Service in Northern Ireland and O’Hagan’s lawyer, Niall Murphy, but did not receive any replies.