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Man gunned down in car ambush after personal feud

Inquest told the killing was claimed by the Real IRA

By Ashleigh Wallace

Published 01/11/2004

A Co Down man who was gunned down in his brother's car by the Real IRA died as a result of a personal vendetta, a senior police officer today said.

A Co Down man who was gunned down in his brother's car by the Real IRA died as a result of a personal vendetta, a senior police officer today said.

Detective Superintendent Jeffrey McClatchey blamed dissident republicans for the murder of Matthew Burns (26), who was killed in an ambush close to his parent's Castlewellan home on February 21 2004.

Det Supt McClatchey said it was clear Mr Burns was the intended target, adding: "Matthew Burns was targeted when he left his home in Ballynahinch and from that point he was under surveillance until he arrived at his mother's".

The killing was subsequently claimed by the Real IRA and today their motive was branded as a smokescreen by Dt Supt McClatchey.

He told the inquest: "On the information available to me I think the motive may be more closely associated with a personal vendetta against the deceased, arising out of long-running frictions which have existed between the deceased and local persons associated to violence, dissident republicanism".

Mr Burns' mother Marie said she believed the murder was carried out due to a family feud.

She said: "I had a fall-out and Matthew took my part in it and in my opinion that was why he was worried".

The inquest heard how two years prior to his murder Mr Burns had been badly beaten by a gang of masked men outside his mother's house.

And a year later a pipe-bomb type device was planted on the roof of his car in Newcastle.

On the evening of his murder Mr Burns had been visiting his parents before he was picked up by his brother Patrick. The two men were heading to a gym in Rathfriland when Patrick's white Toyota was ambushed at the Burrendale Road and Dublin Road junction.

Patrick has since died from cancer but in a deposition read to the inquest, he said he heard a bang as they approached the junction.

Patrick said he was aware something was "flying about the inside of the car" and said: "I felt a stinging in my fingers and thought it was an electrical problem in the car.

"There was banging and cracking and at that stage I realised shooting had taken place".

Deputy Coroner for Greater Belfast, Deborah Malcolm, said she was satisfied Matthew Burns was the intended target. Expressing her sympathy to his loved-ones, Ms Malcolm branded the killing as "despicable and cowardly."

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