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Tragic Inga Maria Hauser's sister shed tears for late family friend John Dallat

MLA a dogged campaigner over '88 murder

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John Dallat speaking at a memorial service for Inga Maria Hauser in Ballypatrick Forest Park last year

John Dallat speaking at a memorial service for Inga Maria Hauser in Ballypatrick Forest Park last year

Inga Maria Hauser. Credit: PSNI/PA Wire

Inga Maria Hauser. Credit: PSNI/PA Wire

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Keeley Moss and Claire McKeegan

Keeley Moss and Claire McKeegan

Keeley Moss and John Dallat

Keeley Moss and John Dallat

The coffin of former SDLP MLA John Dallat leaves St Mary's church outside Kilrea for burial in the church graveyard

The coffin of former SDLP MLA John Dallat leaves St Mary's church outside Kilrea for burial in the church graveyard

John Dallat speaking at a memorial service for Inga Maria Hauser in Ballypatrick Forest Park last year

The only surviving sister of murdered backpacker Inga Maria Hauser broke down in tears when she learned of the death of campaigning politician John Dallat.

The East Londonderry SDLP Assemblyman, who passed away aged 73 last Tuesday after a lengthy illness, single-handedly prevented the still unsolved case from being closed.

It was his years of persistence that forced police to re-investigate - efforts that were rewarded last year when a file on a 61-year-old suspect was sent to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

The family of 18-year-old Inga, who was strangled while on holiday in Northern Ireland in 1988, were hugely grateful to Mr Dallat for keeping the case active.

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Inga Maria Hauser. Credit: PSNI/PA Wire

Inga Maria Hauser. Credit: PSNI/PA Wire

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Inga Maria Hauser. Credit: PSNI/PA Wire

Their solicitor Claire McKeegan broke the news of the politician's death to Inga's sister Friederike Leibl in a heartbreaking telephone call.

"When I told Friederike about John's death, she became very upset. They know that he had been an advocate for Inga Maria when she had no one. John went out of his way to assist them. He had even invited some of the family to stay at his home later this year," she said.

He treated Inga Maria like she was one of his own children. He remembered the time she went missing and wanted so much to help because he cared so deeply Claire McKeegan, solicitor for Inga Maria's family

Claire explained how Inga-Maria's case resonated strongly with Mr Dallat, who was a "young father with a young family" when she was abducted after getting off the ferry from Stranraer to Larne.

"He treated Inga Maria like she was one of his own children. He remembered the time she went missing and wanted so much to help because he cared so deeply," she told Sunday Life.

"At one point there was only a junior detective constable in Derry leading the murder investigation and the police were going to close the case, but John's tenacity made sure that never happened."

One of Mr Dallat's last public appearances came last Christmas, when he attended a memorial service for Inga Maria in Ballypatrick Forest Park, where her body was discovered.

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Keeley Moss and Claire McKeegan

Keeley Moss and Claire McKeegan

Keeley Moss and Claire McKeegan

He was battling cancer at the time, but in true selfless style told Sunday Life he did not want to talk about his illness because it would detract from appeals for information about the murder.

Addressing a crowd, Mr Dallat said: "The greatest Christmas present that Inga Maria's family could receive is information that could lead to her killer being prosecuted. I would like to appeal again to anyone with knowledge of this to contact the police. There are people living in the area who know something. I would ask them to search their conscience and tell the police what they know."

Paying tribute to Mr Dallat, who was buried in his native Kilrea on Thursday, Claire said: "I have never seen anyone quite so passionate about a case.

"John was tenacious and absolutely 100% devoted to it. When I spoke to him about it, it was like Inga Maria was one of his own children."

Another to praise the deceased politician was Dublin-based author Keeley Moss, who has written extensively about Inga Maria's case and campaigned for justice on the murdered teen's behalf.

She said: "John was an incredible man, the most hardworking person I have ever known. He was kind and generous."

Keeley often joined Mr Dallat travelling across Northern Ireland to raise awareness of the case and meeting with police officers working on the new investigation.

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Keeley Moss and John Dallat

Keeley Moss and John Dallat

Keeley Moss and John Dallat

"The case being re-opened was down to John - he just never gave in," she said.

Police believe Inga Maria was murdered by a lorry driver who she accepted a lift from after getting off the boat in Larne. He then dumped her body in a shallow grave in Ballypatrick Forest Park.

A file on a man arrested in connection with the murder, who is on police bail, is being considered by the PPS.

The suspect was a regular user of the Larne-to-Scotland ferry and used an articulated lorry to move livestock across the sea.

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The coffin of former SDLP MLA John Dallat leaves St Mary's church outside Kilrea for burial in the church graveyard

The coffin of former SDLP MLA John Dallat leaves St Mary's church outside Kilrea for burial in the church graveyard

The coffin of former SDLP MLA John Dallat leaves St Mary's church outside Kilrea for burial in the church graveyard

Police have confirmed he was seen with scratch marks on his face not long after Inga Maria vanished and there was concern in the community that he had been involved. Several years ago, priests at Catholic churches in the north Antrim area made an appeal to their parishioners to come forward with any information they had about Inga Maria's killer and also subject themselves to a DNA test.

Around the same time, in one of the largest DNA screenings ever undertaken in the UK, 2,000 samples failed to produce a definitive match to a male genetic profile found at the murder scene.

cbarnes@sundaylife.co.uk

Belfast Telegraph