Monday 11 May 1997 - Sean Brown, a 61 year old father of six from Bellaghy, County Derry, was abducted and murdered on May 11 1997. An instructor at the Ballymena Training Centre, Mr Brown played an active role in the GAA.
On the evening of May 11 he attended an unscheduled GAA fixture at the Wolfe Tone GAA club in Bellaghy. As a result of the unscheduled match the weekly club meeting was delayed and did not end until 11.15pm. Sean Brown (junior), son of the deceased, drove out of the Bellaghy Sports Complex at 11.25pm. He left his father behind to set the burglar alarm (timed set at 11.27pm.) and lock the side door of the main building before securing the complex by locking the heavy wooden main gates at the Ballyscullion Road leading to the village. He would follow his son home, usually within five minutes, to the family residence in the nearby village about ¼ mile distance.
Sean Brown, the chairman of the Club, moved his Red Ford Sierra outside the complex to the edge of the main road. He was attacked at the main gates between 11.32 and 11.35 p.m. After a violent struggle, he was abducted by several assailants.
He was bundled into the back of his own Sierra (a hatchback). It was driven in convoy, led by a Vauxhall Cavalier fitted with false number plates. The third car, a white Ford Escort, was the back up car in the convoy. This convoy crossed the River Bann and was timed passing the adjacent Toome RUC station at 11:41:06pm. precisely a distance of 5.0 miles from Bellaghy. Police claim that the tail-end car, the Ford Escort, did not cross the River Bann into Co. Antrim.
This cavalcade drove a further 5.2 miles on the A6 to the start of the M2 motorway near Randalstown. Sean's Ford Sierra car was driven into a secluded laneway running above and parallel to the start of the motorway. He was then dragged from the car and shot and his car set on fire. The blaze was reported at 11.45pm. to the local Randalstown RUC station less than 1 mile away. When the local RUC investigated they found Sean Brown's body with 6 bullet wounds to the head, partially burned from the intense heat, lying behind his burnt-out car.
[The total distance covered is 10.2 miles exactly and would take 10-15 minutes at normal speed, although it has been confirmed by witnesses to the family that the convoy was in fact being driven at high speed]
One theory suggested that he was brought to Randalstown to establish a link to RUC officer Darren Bradshaw who was buried in nearby Antrim later that day. Constable Bradshaw had been murdered by the INLA in Belfast. The family believe that there are serious flaws in this explanation.
Initially the murder was claimed by the UVF but it is believed that the LVF were in fact responsible.
In a statement published in the Irish News (17.12.97) the UDP claimed that the LVF carried out the killing, using the same weapon as in the murder of Gerry Devlin at St Enda's GAA Club in Glengormley on December 5 1997. This was never officially confirmed. In 1999 an inquest into the murder of West Belfast taxi driver John Mc Colgan was told that the same weapon had been used in the murder of Sean Brown.
Only weeks before the murder William Mc Crea of the DUP lost his Mid-Ulster Westminster parliamentary seat to Martin Mc Guinness of Sinn Fein. At the election count Mc Crea, who had once shared a platform with loyalist paramilitary leader Billy Wright, stated that nationalists in Mid-Ulster would "… reap a bitter harvest."
The concerns of the Brown family include:
- the extent of the subsequent police investigation in relation to witnesses and other matters,
- the attitude of the initial investigating officer towards the family,
- a fundamental failure to keep the family informed,
- the route taken by loyalists subsequent to the abduction which entailed driving directly past Toome RUC,
- the explanation offered regarding the operation of surveillance cameras at Toome RUC,
- the response of then Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan to concerns raised about the case by the Belfast Coroner John Lecky.