11 January 2007 Edition
Loyalists given free reign to kill
BY PEADAR Ó FAOLÁIN
The ability of unionist paramilitary death squads to roam the streets of North Belfast and freely target Catholics for assassination has once again been exposed, thanks to the persistence of North Belfast man Jason O’Halloran.
O’Halloran was shot and seriously wounded by the UDA as he stood talking to his friend Jim Burns at Rosapenna Street. It was just one of a series of attacks carried out by the loyalist group over a two-hour period on Sunday, 21 July 2002. In the worst incident of that night, 19-year-old Gerard Lawlor was shot dead as he walked home along the Whitewell Road after a night out.
As well as these attacks, UDA gangs fired on two men at Salisbury Avenue off the Antrim Road, put a gun to the head of Ryan Corbett at the Oldpark Road (he escaped after the gun failed to fire) and fired shots at unidentified targets in the Old Cavehill Road and Ligoniel areas.
Now, after a five-year campaign in which Jason O’Halloran accused the PSNI of failing to properly investigate his shooting, the Police Ombudsman has agreed.
In a report released last week the Police Ombudsman, responding to a complaint lodged by O’Halloran, called on the PSNI to “review their investigation into the attempted murder”. The report also called on the PSNI to provide O’Halloran with “a full explanation of their actions regarding the case”.
Explaining his reasons for pursuing the case, O’Halloran told An Phoblacht that although he was shot on a Sunday night, it wasn’t until Wednesday that the PSNI first asked him for a statement.
“I was still in hospital on large doses of painkillers and wasn’t up to it. It was almost a month later before there was any attempt to get a statement and that was only because Jim and myself went to the PSNI ourselves. As far I’m concerned there was no attempt to track down the people who tried to kill me.”
O’Halloran says that after he and Burns made their statements, they never heard another thing from the PSNI, and that is why he issued the complaint to the Police Ombudsman’s office.
O’Halloran added that while he welcomed the report, he believed that it didn’t go far enough to address the PSNI’s failings that night.
“If there had been any real effort to police North Belfast that night, I might never have been shot and Gerard Lawlor might still be alive today. I was shot half an hour after and within 200 yards of where Ryan Corbett was nearly killed – yet there was no follow-up operation by the PSNI, no checkpoints or no follow-up patrols.”
UDA links ignored
Speaking to An Phoblacht, solicitor Patrick Murray, who represents O’Halloran and the family of Gerard Lawlor, echoed O’Halloran’s view that the PSNI did not do enough to protect vulnerable Catholics in North Belfast that night.
“These were interface areas where these shootings happened and the PSNI were aware that there was an increased risk of loyalist attacks on that night. The report also ignores the UDA links between the gangs involved in the shootings.”
Meanwhile, the family of Gerard Lawlor have met with senior officers from the Police Ombudsman’s office.
John and Sharon Lawlor have asked the Ombudsman to investigate a number of concerns they have about the PSNI’s handling of the case.
Again, solicitor Patrick Murray says: “The investigation into Gerard Lawlor’s murder is the first real test of Nuala O’Loan’s office, in that it is the first major investigation into the actions of the police after Hugh Orde took control.”
He added: “Collusion does not just cover the handing over of information that may lead to a person’s death. It also covers a deliberate failure to properly investigate and bring to justice those responsible.”