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DNA breakthrough in hunt for gunman behind 1999 murder bid on Martin McGartland

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By Suzanne Breen

Detectives investigating the attempted murder of a former British agent in the IRA are probing a new DNA lead.

Martin McGartland told the Belfast Telegraph that he hopes police will finally now track down the IRA gunman who tried to kill him outside his Tyneside home 18 years ago.

The former Special Branch agent was shot and seriously wounded as he sat in his car in Whitley Bay in June 1999.

A Northumbria Police detective involved in the attempted murder investigation has informed him that the force is "pursuing a line of enquiry regarding the unidentified DNA at the scene".

Mr McGartland said: "I believe they may now have matched the DNA to a named person on their database but have so far been unable to arrest the individual.

"He may be living in a different jurisdiction like the south of Ireland. I hope that this development could lead to the IRA gunman who tried to kill me being brought before the courts and charged. If someone is found guilty of my attempted murder, they will be going to jail for a very long time."

Mr McGartland said that, since the shooting happened after 1998, it was not covered by the Good Friday Agreement.

"Anyone convicted won't be put behind bars for a token two years. They will be facing a lengthy sentence," he added.

However, the former agent said that while he hoped there might now finally be progress in tracking down the IRA assassination team, he had "little faith" in Northumbria Police.

"My experience of the force over the past 18 years since I was shot has not been a positive one. I have grave doubts about them but I hope this time that I am proved wrong and they deliver," he said.

Mr McGartland was ambushed after he got into his car outside the house in Whitley Bay where he had been living under a new identity. A gunman appeared at the window and fired into the vehicle. He was shot six times in the hand, chest and stomach. His life was saved by neighbours who used cling film to stop the blood flow from his wounds.

"I was left with life-changing physical and psychological disabilities which mean that neither myself nor my partner can work as she is now my carer," he explained.

In a letter sent to Mr McGartland, a Northumbria Police detective said he was currently investigating forensic evidence from the crime scene.

"I am pursuing a line of enquiry in this case regarding the unidentified DNA at the scene. We have recently obtained a sample that has eliminated a further individual," the officer said.

"This had been an outstanding enquiry for some time and I hope the fact that this has been completed provides you with some assurance investigations are ongoing and that I am active in trying to progress this enquiry."

The detective added: "A forensic review is awaited and I will seek to have this progressed soon when the scientist is available.

"There remains a key line of enquiry that I am actively seeking to pursue. This relates to the unidentified DNA."

Republicans Harry Fitzsimmons from Belfast and Scott Monaghan from Glasgow were arrested and questioned about the attempted murder in November 1999, but they were both released without charge.

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