Murder gang could have been stopped had PSNI’s own plan been put in place

Loyalist gang succeeded in mission to ‘kill a Taig’

By Staff Reporter

TEN YEARS ago this month Gerard Lawlor was brutally murdered – eight years after the first paramilitary ceasefire and four years after the Good Friday Agreement. But that balmy July night as the nineteen year old walked home after a quiet drink with friends in the Bellevue Arms, North Belfast was anything but peaceful. Instead sectarian tensions in the area had been heightening for months.

The year before (July 2001) Protestant teenager Gavin Brett was shot dead on the Hightown Road in the mistaken belief he was a Catholic; Catholic postman Danny McColgan was murdered six months later and then six months after that Gerard was gunned down. All three young men knew each other.

No one was ever convicted of the murders, leading the families to fear a loyalist murder gang, not aligned to the peace process, was murdering Catholics with impunity.

A forklift truck driver, Gerard Lawlor was a respected member of St Enda’s GAC and a devoted father of a baby son. His parents, who had been holidaying in Newcastle at the time of his murder, had to be called to return to Belfast upon learning their much loved son had been shot not far from their family home.

The family believe if police had acted properly that night he would still be at the centre of their lives, surrounded by his girlfriend, son and loving family and friends. Instead they have to visit his grave.

The week leading up to Gerard Lawlor’s murder was riddled with sectarian incidents as tensions mounted across North Belfast. Catholic homes were attacked on Alliance Avenue in Ardoyne; loyalists stabbed and seriously injured a Catholic man in the Oldpark while another man was savagely beaten by loyalists in the same area.

Reports from the time tell of loyalists going on a “violent rampage” as trouble erupted in Ligoniel, Deerpark, Alliance Avenue and Glenbryn areas.

The night before the killing a 49-year-old Catholic man was stabbed in the Whitewell Road, not far from where Gerard Lawlor was later killed.

The hours before Gerard Lawlor’s murder were fraught with danger as a loyalist gang went out to “kill a Catholic”. The trouble began at 7.30pm after a Protestant teenager in Glenbryn was shot and wounded in the groin.

At 10pm two men standing outside a house in Salisbury Avenue were fired upon.

Less than an hour later a man standing outside Henry Joys bar on the Oldpark Road had a gun held to his head. The gun jammed. Police pulled up shortly after the incident and actually spoke to the intended victim. They didn’t take a formal statement or seal the area off. They simply drove off.

Just 15 minutes later a car opened fire on residents standing on the Ligoniel Road. No one was injured.

Ten minutes after that a 29 year old Catholic man was standing at the junction of Rosapenna Street and Rosapenna Court talking to a friend. A car pulled up beside the two men and upon seeing the occupants wearing masks and one pointing a gun the two men tried to run. The gunman fired at least 12 shots from car, shooting one man in the legs and groin.

Despite the attempted murders and mayhem across North Belfast and despite two sectarian murders in less than a year close to where Gerard Lawlor was killed, the police did not set up a vehicle checkpoint .

If the PSNI had followed their own strategy, they would have had a Landrover not even a minute’s walk from the quiet and leafy stretch road where Gerard Lawlor was killed. A fact that has haunted the teenager’s family ever since.

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