A man who died after being shot during a post office robbery had been using a sledgehammer to smash through security glass at the counter, an inquest has heard.
Patrick Joseph Ward suffered a fatal bullet wound to his chest during the incident at a branch on the Ballysillan Road in North Belfast in October 1999.
Twelve years on, an inquest into his killing finally opened yesterday.
Around 30 witnesses are scheduled to give evidence to the hearing, which is expected to last all week.
Catherine Ward, a sister of the deceased, told the city’s coroner’s court that rumours were circulating at the time about his death.
“There had been a lot of talk of what had happened,” she said.
According to one account, Mr Ward (26), from Whiterock Gardens in the city, had entered the post office brandishing a sledgehammer.
“I was told Paddy Joe was beating the window with a sledgehammer,” she added.
“A man pulled out a gun and shot him.”
Mr Ward’s body was later found at a flat at nearby Kansas Avenue.
“I heard Paddy Joe was left by his so-called friends,” Ms Ward added. “They left him in the hallway, shut the door behind them and phoned an ambulance.”
According to reports at the time, the robbery took place around 3pm on October 18, 1999, when two masked men, one brandishing a sledgehammer and the other a gun, entered the post office.
During yesterday’s hearing, several witnesses described how one member of staff at the branch had been “on edge” following a suspicious incident earlier that day.
Samuel Cooper, who was waiting in a queue, described how his attention was drawn to a man who came in to purchase a stamp around midday. He also heard a female assistant saying she did not recognise the customer.
Mr Cooper said it was clear one of the staff members “wasn’t too happy about this fella”.
Another, referring to the same member of staff, added: “He was on edge.
“He just wasn’t settled, he thought something was going to happen.”
The inquest continues.