The family of a Catholic gunned down by loyalists 10 years ago say they will never give up their fight for justice after a new probe highlighted “serious failings” in the PSNI investigation into his death.
Gerard Lawlor was shot dead on July 21, 2002 as he made his way from the Bellevue Arms to his home on the Whitewell Road in north Belfast.
Two men on a motorbike pulled up beside the 19-year-old Gaelic footballer and shot him three times.
The UFF and Red Hand Defenders both claimed responsibility for the murder at the time.
Despite a lengthy police investigation no one has ever been brought to justice and no inquest has ever been held.
A decade after the murder, a ‘community inquiry’ commissioned by the Lawlor family's legal representatives was launched to probe the circumstances of the killing. The key findings published yesterday painted a damning picture, claiming there were “serious deficiencies” in the various investigations into the sectarian murder.
It also claimed there were failures to interview potential witnesses and suspects and take appropriate forensic measures. The report said two men involved in the murder were protected by police because they were informers, and alleged collusion.
Mr Lawlor’s killing was one of the first paramilitary murders investigated by the newly-formed PSNI.
The family say they have been “let down”, describing the last decade as a “void”.
And the dead man’s parents, Sharon and John, vowed to continue to fight for justice.
“If it doesn’t happen in our time, our sons will keep Gerard’s fight going,” Mrs Lawlor said.
“Hopefully it won’t come to that, and the police will sit up and listen.”
Mr Lawlor added: “We will never get over the loss of our beautiful son.
“He was a bright 19-year-old boy on the threshold of his adult life.
“He was our son and brother and he was also a father to his son Josh, who has grown up without the love of a father.” Mr Lawlor said the case needs to be reviewed.
“When Gerard was killed It was post-Good Friday Agreement and the new dawn. But we have been let down; we went to the State for help and have got nowhere.”
The report was compiled by Jane Winter, the director of British Irish Rights Watch; Prof Bill Rolston, director of the Transitional Justice Institute at the University of Ulster, and Gemma McKeown, a solicitor for the Committee on the Administration for Justice.
Prof Rolston said the evidence was “overpowering.”
A PSNI spokeswoman said: “The investigation into the murder of Gerard Lawlor has been reviewed by the PSNI Serious Crime Review Team and is currently the subject of a PONI (Ombudsman) investigation and, as such, it would be inappropriate to comment.”
A Police Ombudsman investigation is ongoing into the case. A spokesperson said that they are considering the contents of the report.
Gerard Lawlor was shot dead by the UDA as he walked home near the Antrim Road in July 2002. It was one of the first sectarian murders to be investigated by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, but his family said the force has failed to bring anyone to justice.
Catholics had been targeted in four other random attacks in the two hours before the murder, apparently sparked after an attack on a Protestant man earlier on the evening of July 21.
No one has ever been charged with his murder.