Belfast Telegraph

Colin Horner's mum and partner taunted by supporters of his UDA killers as men jailed for slaying in Bangor car park

By Michael Donnelly

Friends and supporters of four men jailed for more than 60 years for the "callous murder" of Colin Horner jeered and taunted his still grieving mum and partner in court.

Moments earlier they had watched as Mr Horner's killers Alan James Wilson, Joseph Blair, Robert Ralph, and Ryan Graham Smyth, laughed and joked, waving and giving the 'thumbs-up' to family and friends before being lead from the dock of Belfast Crown Court.

As Mr Horner's mum Leslie, partner Natasha and two of his aunts Angela and Heather fled the court in tears, his killers' cheering supporters taunted that the sentences meant nothing to them. 

One supporter was overheard saying that while "they'll be back, Horner won't".

Mr Justice Colton told the men, all from Co Down, that while he was determining the minimum tariff each must serve before being eligible to apply for parole, they would always remain subject to their life sentences, and could be returned to prison at any time.

Mr Justice Colton said the murder of the 35-year-old father-of-two was "callous", and made all the more serious as it was carried out in front of his three-year-old son Oscar, in a public car park and witnessed by ordinary people going about their lawful business.

While the prosecution did not attribute any specific roles to the four self-confessed murders, Counsel had said they were demonstrated through analysis of CCTV footage, text message traffic between the men, and cell-site analysis of their mobile phones.

James Horner was shot dead in a supermarket car park

And that all four, as the judge commented, were "part of a joint enterprise involving the targeting and deliberate killing of Colin Horner".

The murder, said by the prosecution to have all the hallmarks of a professional contract killing, was committed by an unknown lone masked gunman dressed in black. The killing took just 20 seconds from beginning to end to carry it out.

Given a minimum of 16 years each for their roles in the car park shooting at Sainsbury's Bangor supermarket on May 28, 2017, were, 30-year-old Wilson (30) of North Green, Newtownards, and 31-year-old Bangor man Ryan Graham Smyth of Windsor Gardens.

Robert Ralph

Given 15 and a half years, and 15 years, respectively were Newtownards men, Joseph Blair (35), of Shackleton Walk, and Robert Ralph, (47) of Donaghadee Road.

Sentenced along with them, but free on suspended jail terms, on separate charges of withholding information on the brutal killing were 48-year-old Adrian Gordon Price, of Bristol Park, Newtownards, and 24-year old Conlig woman Terrie Aicken, from Green Road.

The burnt out Ford Mondeo used in the murder of Colin Horner. Credit: PSNI

Mr Horner's partner Natasha said in a statement: “I would like to thank my family and friends, PSNI, the PPS and court services. Knowing that the people responsible for Colin’s death are now behind bars is a relief for me, my daughter but more so my son as he now knows the 'bad guys' are in jail and can't hurt him anymore.”

Joseph Blair

Mr Horner's mother Lesley, speaking outside court, said justice had been done for her son.

She also said it was "extremely difficult" to deal with the verbal abuse directed at her and her family by supporters of the jailed men moments after the sentences were passed.

Holding back tears, Mrs Horner branded them as "scum" and said she was glad they were off the streets.

She said: "I know there are families out there who haven't had justice ... I'm not saying we are lucky, luck doesn't come in to it. The pain this has caused me and my family, it has just been excruciating."

Mrs Horner said her son will live on through his two children "and through me as I will keep his memory alive forever."

She also slammed media reports that Colin was killed due to a loyalist feud, and instead said he was killed standing up to paramilitaries.

"He was a good boy and I would like to say, it was put out there about loyalists feuds and this that and the other," she said.

"My son was murdered because he stood up to scum. He wanted to get on with his life and bring his kids up, but they wouldn't leave him alone - and I'm proud of him."

The car belonging to Colin Horner at the scene of his murder in May 2017

Reacting to the verbal abuse outside the court, Mrs Horner said: "Just to see them again thinking they are tough men with their thumbs up saying 'bye, we're away to jail'

"We had to be there to see them cuffed and actually physically see them being taken down. Colin is gone, my son is not coming back. Some families don't even get justice so we are glad we got justice today."

And when asked how Colin's son Oscar was, Mrs Horner said: "He's doing good. He's a delightful wee boy and we will keep his Daddy's memory alive. I talk to him all the time about his Daddy.

Killed: Colin Horner

"I have a photo in my bedroom and he stays with me at the weekend and he got up and he went to me 'Granny' and I said 'what darling' and he said to me 'there's my Daddy in that photo' and I said 'yes darling' and he said 'I want to get into that photo to see my Daddy.' It's heart-breaking."

Detective Chief Inspector Peter McKenna, speaking after the sentencing, said: "This was a cold and brutal murder of a young man in front of his three-year-old son and I welcome today’s sentencing.

“On Sunday 28 May 2017 Colin Horner visited a local supermarket with his young child and after picking up some groceries they returned to his car.

"Colin had just finished placing his three-year-old son in his car seat when a gunman jumped out of a Ford Mondeo and ran towards them, opening fire with a handgun.

Ryan Smyth

"Colin was hit several times and was left to die as the gunman ran back to the car which fled the scene and was found burning minutes later just a short distance away. Sadly Colin was rushed to hospital but did not survive the devastating injuries that he received.

“It is inconceivable that Colin’s son, who was just a toddler at the time, had to witness his father’s murder and this is a memory that he will carry with him for the rest of his life. Colin was also the father of a little girl who was just two-years-old when her Daddy was taken in such a callous manner.

“This was a premeditated murder which I believe was linked to an ongoing South East Antrim UDA feud. The victim was followed throughout the day by a second vehicle, a black Ford Focus, in the lead up to his death and this enabled the gunman to pull up in the Mondeo at the supermarket and end Colin’s life in a matter of seconds."

DCI McKenna said those responsible for the murder acted as "judge, jury and executioner" but paid tribute to Mr Horner's mother and partner.

"I would like to pay tribute to Colin’s mother Lesley and his partner Natasha for their calm and resolve throughout the process," the senior officer said.

"Colin was a much loved father, partner, son and friend and whilst no sentence can bring him back, I hope that these convictions offer some comfort as they cope with their grief.”

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