Police Ombudsman to publish damning report on Sean Brown murder investigation

18 January 2004

The North's police ombudsman is set to recommend an independent review of the murder, by loyalist paramilitaries, of GAA official Sean Brown in 1997. Nuala O'Loan's report, to be published tomorrow, is expected to be strongly critical of the RUC investigation.

The Sunday Tribune has learned that two years ago, the North's coroner for Belfast, John Leckey, wrote to the then chief constable, Ronnie Flanagan, suggesting that an "outside police force" be asked to re-investigate the murder. The RUC acknowledged receipt of the letter, but Flanagan did not respond.

The family asked O'Loan to take on the case in 2001. "Before that we were getting nowhere," said Damien Brown, the murdered man's son, in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Tribune. The government has been kept aware of developments in the case.

The detective who headed the investigation has since retired. He also headed the investigation into the death, during a riot, of Derry man, Dermot McShane, in 1996. The European Court ruled that this investigation was "not conducted with due expedition."

Brown said the RUC's investigation had been "very amateurish", and the family felt they had been treated as "second class" citizens. "The way it seems to us, they make a difference according to what religion you are," he said.

Last year, Sir John Stevens reported that his inquiry into collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries had found the RUC did not treat threats against catholics with the same degree of seriousness as threats against protestants.

The gang traveled in two cars. Its members attacked Brown as he locked up the Wolfe Tone GAA club in Bellaghy, Co Derry. He may have been shot dead there - or he may have been kidnapped alive.

The killers then drove through Toomebridge, and past the huge RUC station there, which has what looks like state of the art surveillance equipment. The security forces regularly mounted a checkpoint outside the station. "How did they know it would be alright?" demanded Brown. "It makes you think."

Paul O'Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry, which has supported the Brown family in its efforts to have the murder re-investigated, said questions had to be asked about the route chosen by the killers and about security force surveillance.

"They were in a convoy. They can't have been wearing masks. They had a kidnapped man, possibly injured, possibly dead, in his car," he said. "What made them think they'd be safe?" There are also questions about the taking of statements from witnesses, and the availability of written records of the investigation.

The gun used in the murder had been used before in a sectarian murder, and was used since in at least one murder. In 1998, it was used to murder Belfast taxi driver, John McColgan. At the time, his family made a complaint about the police handling of the case. This weekend, his widow, Lorraine, said she felt the police "just didn't do their job."

Brown was murdered by the Loyalist Volunteer Force, and the gang responsible is believed to have included Mark "Swinger" Fulton, who took over as leader when Billy "King Rat" Wright was jailed in 1997. At least one woman was also involved. Fulton has since died in prison, and Wright was murdered in prison by the INLA.