Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Lisa Dorrian's family call on last man to see her alive to break his silence

By Ciaran Barnes

This is the man police believe may hold the key to finding the body of missing murder victim Lisa Dorrian.

He is Mark Lovett, 29, a Newtownabbey taxi driver who was the last known person to see her alive.

The dad of two — who is currently on probation for possessing an offensive weapon, and who has convictions for assault — has steadfastly refused to speak to detectives about his memories of the February 2005 night she disappeared.

He initially made a short statement to officers, denying involvement, after being questioned as a suspect before being freed without charge.

Lovett’s silence over the past 12 years — his parents chased Sunday Life when we called to his house last year — is in stark contrast to three other criminals spoken to by police who have now been ruled out of their inquiries.

They are:

  • Convicted drug dealer Mark Smyth, 34, who gave Lisa a lift the day before her disappearance and who sat an “inconclusive” Sunday Life lie detector test to prove his innocence;
  • Marty Peacock, 33, who was recently jailed for possessing a knife and who has made statements to the PSNI from his cell at Maghaberry Prison;
  • Stephen Thompson, 38, Lisa’s ex-boyfriend, who fled Northern Ireland after she went missing only to return after being assured by cops he is a witness and not a suspect.

At the time of her disappearance the Bangor woman was running around with a criminal gang of which Smyth and Peacock were members. These associations were  initially thought to be linked to her murder and her body being hidden.

But following last Tuesday’s 12th anniversary of Lisa’s death, Sunday Life can reveal that detectives have all but ruled this theory out.

PSNI chiefs, who have dedicated an unprecedented amount of resources to cracking the case, now believe she died following a drug-fuelled dispute.

Her killer is understood to have then summoned an individual to whom he is  very close, and they both secretly buried Lisa’s body.

A senior police source told us: “That is why there hasn’t been a breakthrough in the case. There were a small number of individuals involved in disappearing Lisa and they remain extremely close. It’s because of this strong bond that they have refused to say anything.

“If members of a crime gang had been responsible, they would have, 12 years on, gave the killer up — people like that don’t often stay friends for very long.”

Lisa had spent the day of her disappearance at a drugs party in a Ballyhalbert caravan park with friends.

Among the group was Mark Lovett, the man detectives believe could have crucial information about her last moments.

Then aged 17, he worked as a groundsman at the site and, despite being from the Rathcoole estate 30 miles away in Newtownabbey, knew the area well.

Most of the people at the party had consumed a large amount of drugs and alcohol, meaning the witness statements they made to police afterwards are at best hazy.

In his only statement made to police in 2005, Lovett, who did not drive at the time or own a car, explained how he and Lisa were alone in the caravan during the early hours of the morning.

He claimed there was a commotion outside, saying he heard noises and flashing lights.

Lovett says both he and Lisa, who had taken a considerable amount of drugs, panicked and fled into the night. That was the last time she was seen alive.

As part of their investigation, detectives spoke to a number of other caravan owners who had been at the site that weekend. None can recall who were staying at the Ballyhalbert site that weekend. Not one of them can recall hearing any commotion or seeing flashing lights.

Yet that is what Mark Lovett insisted upon in his one and only statement to police 12 years ago. Detectives now want him to break a decade-long silence and speak to them again. A security source added: “Lovett potentially holds the key to helping us locate Lisa’s body and ending 12 years of pain for the Dorrian family. We need him to talk to us again, tell us what he can remember.”

After he made his statement to police in 2005, Lovett was interrogated by the UVF which conducted its own investigation into Lisa’s murder.

He also gave an anonymous account to a BBC Spotlight programme, saying it was at 5am that he heard noises outside the caravan.

Lovett claimed he and Lisa ran outside and lost each other in the dark. He then said he rang the pretty shop assistant’s mobile but she did not answer. Instead, he spoke to her former boyfriend, Stephen Thompson, who was in Bangor.

Thompson — who is not a police suspect — told Sunday Life he had bought the phone for Lisa, which she had given back to him after they ended their relationship a few days before her disappearance.

Thompson also revealed he met Lovett later that day in Ballyhalbert, and that the then 17-year-old was emotionally distressed, shaky, tearful and not himself.

This is how he appeared when spoken to by members of Lisa’s family two days after she went missing.

Now, 12 years on, her devastated dad, John Dorrian, is again pleading for witnesses to come forward and help end his family’s pan.

His main focus is on giving his daughter a Christian burial, with prosecutions for her murder being a secondary thought. John said: “It’s never too late to tell us. A place is all we need. Please help yourself by easing your conscience. Tell us where Lisa is. It’s never too late to tell us.”

Lisa’s younger sister Joanne says it is impossible to describe the hurt her family feels.

She told Sunday Life: “Unless you are going through this it is impossible to understand the pain. It never leaves you, it is there with you every day.

“We got together as a family on Lisa’s anniversary, but we had nowhere to go, no grave or resting place.”

Lisa’s loving mother, Pat, passed away last year after being denied the chance to bury her eldest daughter.

Joanne explained how her grandmother, who died two weeks ago, spoke of Lisa on her deathbed.

“Our nanny and mum now have the answers we are trying to find. But you can help us find Lisa in this life, not the next,” said Joanne.

Police investigating Lisa’s murder have so far carried out 275 searches and taken statements from 571 people.

They have made eight arrests on suspicion of murder, including Mark Lovett, but no one has ever been charged with the killing.

Appealing for information, Detective Chief Inspector Justyn Galloway said the Dorrian family has suffered “intolerable grief”.

Anyone with information about the murder of Lisa Dorrian should contact police on the non-emergency 101 number or the Crimestoppers charity on 0800 555 111.

cbarnes@sundaylife.co.uk

Online Editors

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph