Partner of murdered takeaway driver Dan Murray says 'love of my life was not a drug dealer - his killers are cowards'
Partner of Dan Murray defends his reputation and insists 'dogs in the street' know identity of the gunmen
The partner of the man shot dead by dissident republicans in west Belfast on Monday has angrily denied claims "the love of her life" was a drug dealer.
Ciara Austin, who called the killers "cowards", also spoke of the revulsion she felt after realising that she had spoken to one of Dan Murray's murderers on the telephone just minutes before he was shot dead.
She and Mr Murray worked together in a Chinese restaurant on the Falls Road, and she took an order from a man who lured the 54-year-old takeaway driver to his death outside a house on Lady Street in the Divis area.
Mr Murray, who was shot in the head as he arrived in his black Ford Focus car, had been targeted twice in recent years by dissident republicans, but he went on television and gave newspaper interviews last year to publicly reject allegations that he was involved in drugs.
Ms Austin, who has the name 'Dan' tattooed on her foot, echoed his denials last night to the Belfast Telegraph, saying: "Dan was not a drug dealer. He was never convicted of any drug dealing. He was never investigated for supplying drugs."
The PSNI said Mr Murray was known to them and had a criminal record, but the force still described the killing as a brutal attack that robbed a family of a partner, father and brother.
Ms Austin, who claimed Mr Murray had been "hounded" by the police for a number of other offences, said the dogs in the street knew the identities of his murderers and added: "Everyone is aware of their names."
She also told how she was demanding answers from the dissidents about the reasons for the murder, which came just weeks after she and Mr Murray enjoyed a romantic weekend away in the Republic.
"The word 'hate' isn't strong enough to sum up what I feel about the gunmen," Ms Austin said. "A shiver runs down my spine when I think that I was talking to one of the killers on the phone without realising that he was part of the gang who were planning to murder the father of my child".
The man who rang from a telephone box at the junction of the Antrim and Cliftonville Roads calmly ordered curries and chicken from an unsuspecting Ms Austin.
"It's the thought that he and the rest of them then just waited for Dan that sickens me," she said. "They shot him twice in the back of the head, which shows they were just cowards who came in the night".
The grieving woman also explained how her diabetic partner was wary about the order as it was not to one of his normal delivery addresses in Lady Street.
"Dan was a bit iffy about it, but he said he would do it anyway, even though a lot of drivers are avoiding Divis due to all the recent shootings," she said. "But because it was before 10pm, he thought he would go."
Half an hour later, Ms Austin took a phone call from one of Mr Murray's five grown-up children telling her he had been shot.
"I thought it was Dan to say he was on his way back, but it was his daughter, who was screaming down the phone that I should go to Divis because there'd been a shooting," Ciara said.
"I was trying to convince myself that he'd maybe only been shot in the legs, but because they tried to kill him a year ago I knew this was different.
"Dan had always said that if they came back again for him, they would be there to finish him off and that he wouldn't survive another shooting."
Ms Austin arrived in Lady Street just in time to see an ambulance pulling away, so she went to the Royal Victoria Hospital, where she was told doctors were trying to save Mr Murray.
"I knew it was serious and though they said I couldn't see him I just burst through the doors and he was gone," she said.
Ms Austin told how Mr Murray was her best friend before they became involved in a relationship nearly five years ago.
"There was a bit of an age gap but he was the love of my life," she said. "He was an amazing daddy to our wee boy Podraig and my other two children.
"How on earth am I going to explain what's happened to him? He was one in a million. I don't know what I am going to do without him. My whole world revolved around him and we were planning to get married a while back, but we postponed it after I became pregnant.
"I told Dan that I didn't want a big fancy wedding, but he said that I deserved a fuss. Now it will never happen."
Mr Murray was shot in March last year outside Ms Austin's terraced home in St James Mews off the Antrim Road.
"Two masked men came to the house as Dan was leaving to go to his own home," Ciara recalled. "They pushed me onto the stairs and one of them said 'republican movement' before firing one shot at Dan.
"He turned his face away, and if he hadn't done that he would have died that night. He couldn't believe that he survived."
Mr Murray said at the time: "It was an execution, most definitely. It was one face shot, one head shot - they didn't aim for anywhere else.
"They're accusing me of drug dealing and I want them to prove it. They've branded me a drug dealer and I'm not"
In 2009, Mr Murray was shot in the legs by the Continuity IRA. Ms Austin said: "They wanted money from him, but he stood up to them, which is why they were out to kill him."
She added that she and Mr Murray had celebrated her 30th birthday last month with a trip to County Donegal.
"We stayed in Bundoran but also went to Ballina because that was where Dan loved to go fishing," Ciara said. "I'm so glad that he got there one last time."
Ms Austin, who had to smash her way into her home through a window last night as her keys were still i n her partner's car, said people had to demonstrate their opposition to the dissident killers, adding tearfully: "Nobody is standing up to them"