UDA chiefs have moved to distance the terror group from the murder of Carrickfergus man Glenn Quinn after an impassioned plea from his sister for his killers to be handed over.
In a meeting with a local pastor in the Co Antrim town, three members claiming to represent the UDA leadership said there would be no repercussions for witnesses who came forward to police with information about the brutal killing.
The men first attempted to approach the family claiming to represent the UDA Belfast brigade leadership.
However, the family felt their statement would carry more weight if it was made to someone who was not linked to Mr Quinn.
Three men then approached a pastor in Carrick, this time claiming to represent the south east Antrim UDA.
Mr Quinn (47), who was terminally ill and had no connections to the organisation, was beaten to death by three people with baseball bats and an iron bar in his flat in January.
His sister Lesley Murphy has voiced fears that people in her home town of Carrick are afraid to speak out about the murder for fear of attack by the south east Antrim UDA.
She also revealed that Mr Quinn had made a phone call to his brother before he died in which he stated that local UDA members had attacked him.
The gang was linked to Mr Quinn's killing after he criticised an arson attack by them on a local business, which led to him being assaulted by a UDA member days before his death.
Three people known to have links to the gang were arrested shortly after the murder and later released without charge.
Last week in the Belfast Telegraph Mr Quinn's distraught sister issued a heartfelt appeal directly to UDA chiefs urging the gang to stop shielding her brother's killers. It prompted gang leaders in Belfast to approach a local pastor with a statement insisting they had nothing to do with the murder.
Last night the family welcomed the move and said they hoped it would encourage people to come forward with information.
Ms Murphy said: "Whilst we as a family will never condone any paramilitary organisation, we welcome this statement from the senior members of the UDA brigade command in Belfast.
"It has now been made publicly clear that the UDA did not order the attacks on my brother Glenn. The individuals involved falsely used the name of the organisation to instil fear in Glenn for their own personal agenda.
"They carried out these attacks independently using that organisation's name. We have been further advised that these individuals are to have zero support within south east Antrim."
Glenn's sister also revealed that the the UDA is now encouraging people to go to police with information that could help catch her brother's killers.
She added: "We have been assured by the brigade command that there will be no intimidation or repercussions on any witnesses who come forward and speak to police in relation to Glenn's murder.
"In fact, the organisation would encourage witnesses to speak up.
"We would now appeal to anyone who holds information with regards to my brother's cruel murder to come forward and tell police what you know, no matter how small or insignificant you may think it is."
Ms Murphy said the family was now hopeful that, with the veil of fear lifted, the investigation into Mr Quinn's death will move forward.
She added: "Glenn's murder should never have happened, he had done absolutely nothing wrong, he is an innocent victim of what now appears to be a group of bullies.
"These individuals must not be allowed to continue to try to control parts of Carrick. Times are changing and Carrick has very clearly shown that it demands that change happens in the town.
"Once we get justice for Glenn, then as a family we can begin to grieve properly for him."
The pastor approached by the three men claiming to be from the UDA said he too hopes it might help in the capture of the killers.
He did not want to be named, but said: "I was approached by three men who said they represented the leadership of the south east Antrim UDA.
"They asked me to approach the family and let them know that Glenn's murder had nothing to do with them and said they were disgusted by it and didn't agree with what happened.
"I asked if they were telling the truth and they said they were. They also said there would be no intimidation of any witnesses who went to the police with information."
The pastor, who knows the Quinn family, added: "My heart breaks for the Quinn family. I knew Glenn for many years and he was a quiet gentleman who wouldn't have hurt a fly.
"My heart and prayers are with the family and I hope that justice will be done."
The PSNI said: "Police investigating Glenn's murder continue to encourage anyone with any information, no matter how trivial they may think it is, to contact police on 101.
"Information can also be provided to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, which is 100% anonymous and gives people the power to speak up and stop crime.
"The information you provide may help obtain justice for Glenn Quinn's family."