A man accused of murdering a Northern Ireland journalist was sacked from the police’s pipe band after playing at the funeral of former loyalist leader Billy Wright, a court heard today.
Drew Robert King, 40, denies driving the car from which Sunday World reporter Martin O’Hagan was gunned down near his home in County Armagh in September 2001.
He was shunned from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and Prison Service pipe bands after he wore part of a prison officer’s uniform during his appearance at Wright’s 1997 funeral, said prosecution QC David Russell.
The killing of O’Hagan, a 51-year-old Catholic, was branded sectarian and linked to his pursuit of loyalist paramilitaries during the defendant’s refused bail application at Craigavon Magistrates’ Court.
Russell said: “This applicant played as a piper at the funeral of Billy Wright, which was a paramilitary-style funeral.
“He was asked as a result of that to leave (the RUC and Prison Service pipe bands).”
Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) leader Wright was shot dead by republicans at the Maze high-security prison near Belfast.
O’Hagan was murdered near his home in Lurgan, County Armagh, as he walked back from a pub with his wife. He wrote a string of articles criticising loyalists in the Sunday World newspaper.
Russell added: “He (King) is a principal partner in the murder. He is intimately involved, not only in the murder but in the destruction of the evidence after the event, and the murder itself has huge sectarian overtones.
“It is clearly connected to Mr O’Hagan’s employment and his reportage in the newspaper of local paramilitaries and their activities and his criticism of them.”
King, a former car dealer from Moss Road, Waringstown, Co Down, was arrested last month after an individual known as Witness A came forward to police.
Witness A had just returned from holiday in Tenerife when he claims he was telephoned by King immediately after the 2001 murder and asked to meet him the following morning in Lurgan.
He said the next day he was taken by King in his car to Lurgan cemetery where he claimed he had suffered an accident and wanted Witness A to pick up the debris.
Russell added that the pair later drove near the scene of the killing.
“Drew said he was driving the Subaru car when the shooting took place and that after the shooting had taken place… he had driven away and lost control of the car.
“The evidence against King is his own admission to Witness A that he was a principal party in the murder of Martin O’Hagan.”
Defence barrister Andrew Moriarty insisted that his client had been cleared for security checks by the RUC and Prison Service pipe bands and had only one relevant conviction dating back over 20 years, an indication of his trustworthiness for bail.
However, Russell explained his sacking from the bands.
“He was asked to leave as he was wearing part of a prison officer’s uniform at the time of the appearance (at Wright’s funeral).”
The murder car has never been recovered and Detective Sergeant Michael Hamilton told Magistrate Peter Murphy a substantial part of the case relied upon Witness A.
“I am 100% certain, or as close as I can be, if Mr King is given bail he will try to intimidate witnesses involved in the case and he will more than likely abscond.”
Mr Moriarty said a cash surety and the deeds of their home had been promised by King’s parents should he be released and then fail to return.
He referred to Witness A’s history of dishonest behaviour including theft.
“There are certain cases whenever the prosecution case is so demonstrably weak that it requires the defence to expose those weaknesses.”
He added: “In all of the circumstances Mr King can be admitted to bail as all of the concerns are, in my respectful submission, lacking in substance for the reasons I have outlined.”
After he was refused he said he would take an application to the High Court.
The defendant was remanded in custody to reappear at a later date.