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15 May 1997 Edition

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Murdered because he was in GAA

By Mick Naughton.

As a loyalist death squad entered Bellaghy late on Monday evening, 12 May, they were equipped not only with the weapons needed to kill a nationalist, they also had good intelligence.

They were obviously aware that their intended target, Seán Brown, routinely locked up Bellaghy GAA hall following the weekly Monday night meeting.

Seán Brown, a 62 year old Catholic father of six, lived 500 yards from the GAA club, the Wolfe Tones and neighbours reported hearing screams around 11.30pm.

Evidence of a violent struggle would support the theory that Brown was hit on the head, dragged across the car park and bundled into a car at 11.32pm. His son left him at 11.30pm after he had locked the club doors and it was as he locked the car park that the loyalists struck.

Brown's car was spotted burning on the Moneynick Road at 11.54pm, 22 minutes after he was abducted, a time lapse that indicates the loyalists drove from Bellaghy, across the river Bann at Toomebridge to the slip road for Randalstown off the M22 where his body was found. To use the only other route would have meant driving around Lough Beg through Portglenone, but time disallows this possibility.

The loyalists' getaway route, therefore, took them past Toomebridge RUC barracks, whose cameras photograph every car on the road, which means there is a photographic clue to the killers' identities.

Speaking to a local man who heard screams An Phoblacht was told the local community in Bellaghy feel their town was chosen as punishment for the political demise of the previous MP, William McCrea.

There has been a long history of sectarian attacks on the Bellaghy club. The Wolfe Tones clubrooms are much more than the base of a thriving GAA club. It is the location every week for all manner of community functions. Seán Brown was also a member of Bellaghy branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann and was taking Irish language classes.

The old clubhouse on the Castledawson Road was burned down in the 1970s as was another in the early 1980s. After one incident a car carrying musicians home to Dungiven was stopped in 1976 by the Ulster Defence Regiment and the occupants fired upon.

In April 1977 a player from the club, William Strathearn, was shot dead when he was tricked from his home late at night by a man claiming to need medicine for his sick child. William McCaughey, a serving RUC sergeant at the time, was convicted of Strathearn's murder and served 16 years in jail.

Mid-Ulster MP Martin McGuinness, echoing local Sinn Fein representative Margaret McKenna's remarks, said after the killing,

``on behalf of myself and Sinn Féin I'd like to send my sympathy to Mr Brown's wife and children.

``It is clear, indeed it was clear from the outset, that Mr Brown was a victim of loyalist killers yet the RUC misled people by claiming they had an `open mind' as to who was responsible. The RUC should answer for deliberately misleading the public about loyalist involvement in this wanton killing.''

Mr Brown's grieving widow Bridie and her six children issued a statement which said: ``It is a matter of profound sadness that those from outside this community who perpetrated this evil act did so on a person who represented his community as a chairman of the GAA club, as a civil servant and a loving husband and father.

``There can be no doubt that the murderers deliberately determined to claim the life of a prominent and high-standing member of the GAA in Mid-Ulster.''

Last Monday afternoon Sean Brown had attended an awards ceremony at his place of work, the training centre in Ballymena where one young man had received the Apprentice Engineer of the Year Award. In Wednesday's `Ballymena Guardian' newspaper his photo smiles out.

A big match scheduled for Tuesday between Derry and Dublin was postponed after the murder, as were all other games in County Derry.
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