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The Lisa Dorrian case files: 15 years on we take a closer look at the UVF-linked murder

To mark the 15th anniversary of the disappearance of Lisa Dorrian, Sunday Life investigates the circumstances behind her death.

Lisa Dorrian

Our special investigation details how Lisa Dorrian was murdered and secretly buried and reveals the UVF-backed cover-up that still exists to this day and prevents witnesses from coming forward.

We name individuals who have been considered key witnesses by cops and detail the hours before and after she was killed at a Co Down caravan park.

Our review of the evidence also shines a light on the PSNI probe and how after 15 years detectives now have just a single suspect in mind.

They believe this individual strangled Lisa in the Ballyhalbert caravan and then summoned a close relative to help dispose of her body.

Our investigation further reveals how the Dorrian family are now backing a campaign for a law that would result in Lisa’s killer, if he is ever prosecuted, remaining in prison until he tells police where her body is hidden.

The victim

Lisa Dorrian, a 25-year-old shop assistant from Bangor, went missing on February 28, 2005. Murdered and secretly buried, her remains have never been recovered.

Popular Lisa was the oldest of four sisters, all of whom have campaigned tirelessly to bring her killer to justice. Had she been alive, she would have celebrated her 40th birthday last June.

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Lisa Dorrian

Lisa Dorrian

Photopress Belfast

Lisa Dorrian

That evening

Lisa spent the evening before she vanished partying in the home of Naomi Drysdale, who police accept was not involved in her death or disappearance.

From there the 25-year-old moved the short distance to a drugs party in Ballyhalbert Caravan park, which was deserted because it was off season.

Mark Lovett, the last man to see her alive, was also there drinking and taking drugs.

Because almost everyone at the party was under the influence, their statements to police were unreliable. But information from one reveller, the only one who was sober, proved key in establishing that Lisa may have been killed before 1.15am, when the witness rang Lovett, who was intoxicated.

Lovett later told police that he and Lisa were alone in the caravan when they were startled by flashing lights and noise outside at around 4.45am. He claims they ran off into the darkness and lost each other. He claimed he rang the shop assistant’s mobile, but she did not answer.

The location

The caravan in which Lisa is believed to have been murdered is on the north Down coast between Ballywalter and Portavogie. It is popular among holidaymakers during the summer months. However, the site was virtually empty on the night of her February 2005 disappearance because of the cold weather. Lisa was partying in a caravan with several friends including Mark Lovett, who at that time was the park’s teenage groundsman. Extensive searches of the surrounding area have so far failed to recover her body.

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Police search for Lisa Dorrian near the Ballyhalbert caravan park where she vanished in 2005

Police search for Lisa Dorrian near the Ballyhalbert caravan park where she vanished in 2005

Police search for Lisa Dorrian near the Ballyhalbert caravan park where she vanished in 2005

The murder

Detectives believe that Lisa was strangled in the Ballyhalbert caravan and her body was secretly buried a short distance away. Forensic tests on the mobile home failed to locate any of her blood, backing up this theory.

Her killer is thought to have summoned help to hide the shop assistant's body.

This second individual is understood to be a close relative. It is because of this strong family bond that both have stayed silent for 15 years.

Police now have only one suspect in mind and are working on the theory that he murdered Lisa in a rage before disposing of her remains.

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Police search for Lisa Dorrian

Police search for Lisa Dorrian

Photopress

Police search for Lisa Dorrian

The cover-up

The Lisa Dorrian murder cover-up goes right to the very top of the UVF. Her killer and his associate, who is believed to have helped hide her body, have for the past 15 years been given protection by a senior figure within the terror gang from Co Antrim. Potential witnesses have been threatened and the murderer was even provided with a job at a UVF-backed business in an effort to keep him from cracking.

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Detectives are still investigating the disappearance of Lisa Dorrian. Picture: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker

Detectives are still investigating the disappearance of Lisa Dorrian. Picture: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker

Detectives are still investigating the disappearance of Lisa Dorrian. Picture: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker

The key people

After almost 15 years of silence, Mark Lovett, the last man to see Lisa alive, has still not spoken again to police or the Dorrian family about the events of that night.

When he was interviewed by detectives in the wake of the disappearance, he said he and Lisa, who had been taking drugs, fled into the night after hearing sounds outside the caravan in which they were partying. But he has refused to speak to cops again despite repeated requests from the Dorrian family.

Aged 17 at the time of Lisa’s death, the Newtownabbey father-of-two (32) has since been convicted of possessing an offensive weapon and drugs.

Mark Lovett

His silence is in stark contrast to other witnesses interviewed by police.

These include Lisa’s then boyfriend Stevie Thompson, who split with her shortly before she was murdered. The 41-year-old, who is not a suspect, was co-operative throughout. He told Sunday Life how at 5am on the Monday, not long after she disappeared, a phone she had left with him rang.

He said: “Lisa’s phone rang at 5am on the Monday morning. I answered it and it was Mark Lovett. He was ringing me from the caretaker’s phone at the caravan park. Mark told me that Lisa had disappeared and asked me if I knew where she was.”

Convicted drug dealer Mark Smyth (37) was wrongly named in graffiti as Lisa’s killer. He sat a Sunday Life lie detector test to prove his innocence, telling this paper he was in no way linked to the murder.

Another criminal spoken to by cops was Marty Peacock (37), who was questioned in prison. Detectives accept he had nothing to do with Lisa’s disappearance.

Last year the PSNI arrested Newtownards woman Naomi Drysdale. She was released without charge after making statements. The 35-year-old was interviewed because Lisa had been partying with her prior to the disappearance and Mark Lovett slept in her house later that night. She was not at the caravan party.

To date, police have arrested 10 people, but no one has been charged.

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Lisa’s sister Joanne and father John with some of Lisa’s precious belongings

Lisa’s sister Joanne and father John with some of Lisa’s precious belongings

Lisa’s sister Joanne and father John with some of Lisa’s precious belongings

The evidence

Because Lisa’s body has never been recovered and no blood was found in the caravan where she was last seen alive, the evidence in the case is limited.

Central to the police probe are phone calls made on the night and statements from witnesses at the drugs party.

The most crucial of these is from the only sober person who was in the static home. He told cops that Mark Lovett and Lisa were “hallucinating” in the hours before her disappearance.

Worried about their safety, the witness phoned Lovett at 1.15am on February 28, 2005, to check both he and Lisa were okay.

In police statements he revealed how Lovett rambled incoherently and talked about “seeing things” before ending the call.

Lisa Dorrian

The tragedy

Lisa’s murder and disappearance are not the only tragedies the brave Dorrian family have endured during the past 15 years. Lisa’s campaigning mum Pat Dorrian died in December 2015, having never secured justice for her beloved daughter, and in 2018 their family home burned down, destroying many of Lisa’s treasured possessions.

The investigation

As part of its 15-year investigation into Lisa’s murder and secret burial, the PSNI has pursued more than 3,500 lines of inquiry and carried out 400 land, air and sea searches.

The most recent focused on a disused airfield behind Ballyhalbert Caravan Park where cops believe her body may have been hidden.

Detective Superintendent Jason Murphy explained how officers were using new technology that was not available at the time of her disappearance in 2005.

Another key aspect of the investigation is establishing the exact time that the murder took place. Mark Lovett, the last man to see Lisa alive, said they fled the caravan at 4.45am. However, his account cannot be relied upon because he was on drugs on the night in question.

DS Murphy told Sunday Life phonecall evidence suggests Lisa may have been dead before then. He said: “I know that Lisa was alive between 10.00pm and 10.30pm. There was a phonecall made at 1.15am (to Mark Lovett) and that phone call for me is relevant. There is a potential that Lisa was already dead at that stage. My question is, what happens between 10.30pm and 1.15am and what happens between 1.15am and 4.45am?”

Asked if Lisa was murdered between 10.30pm and 1.15am, DS Murphy replied: “There is certainly potential for it.”

The UVF

The UVF carried out an internal inquiry into the murder in an apparent effort to retrieve missing Lisa’s body.

But the probe, led by a Portavogie loyalist, was nothing more than a whitewash that only served to shift attention away from the terror gang’s links to the killing.

The rival LVF was wrongly blamed when, in fact, a member of the UVF-affiliated Red Hand Commando is believed to have been centrally involved.

The fight for justice

The family of missing murder victim Lisa has come out in support of a proposed law that would keep convicted killers behind bars until they reveal the location of their victim’s body.

A £10,000 reward and numerous appeals for information on her whereabouts has still not led to the remains being recovered.

With this in mind, the Dorrians have thrown their weight behind the new proposals, saying: “This is an important move in our campaign as up until now we have focused on finding Lisa and treated justice as a secondary issue. But after

15 years of asking the person to do the right thing, we are switching our campaign to focus on justice for Lisa.

“We are sending a direct message to the man who hid Lisa’s body. We just want to find her. We have asked you, begged you through the media for 15 years to tell us where you hid her body.

“We are now focusing on getting justice for Lisa. When we get a guilty verdict from the jury, we will make sure this law is in place so that you are never released from prison until you tell us where Lisa is.

“If you won’t think of Lisa, think of yourself. A lifetime in jail versus telling us where Lisa is now. This is your choice.

“Life must be difficult for you, flashbacks of what happened, that gut-wrenching feeling when you hear the name ‘Lisa’ being said.

“Consider spending the rest of your life in jail, missing your kids growing up. That’s what this new law will mean when we get a conviction for Lisa. This is your choice.”

Belfast Telegraph