‘IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO DO THE RIGHT THING’

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Detectives investigating the murder of Brian McIlhagga in Ballymoney have renewed their appeal for information on the first anniversary of his death.

42-year-old Mr McIlhagga was beaten and shot by a group of masked men who dragged him from a house in Riverview Park just before 10.30pm on 5 January last year.

A 33-year-old woman who lived in the house was also assaulted by the gang and four children in the property were traumatised.

Brian was shot in both legs outside the house. Tragically, he died at the scene. The attackers are believed to have made off along a walk way running along Riverview Park in the direction of Ballymoney train station.

Brian was a father of five from Ballymena and worked as a plasterer. He was a friend of the woman who lived in the house and had been a visitor in the months leading up to the attack.

Detectives from Serious Crime Branch yesterday (Monday) conducted a leaflet drop in the area around Riverview Park and other relevant parts of the town. A number of pedestrian and vehicle checkpoints were also planned at certain points during the evening.

The officer leading the investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Michael Harvey, said it had been a challenging 12 months: “Our thoughts today are foremost with Brian’s family, his five children, his parents and friends.

“We are also mindful of the four children in the Riverview Park house last year and their ordeal.

“I would ask people to think about the level of violence used in Brian’s murder: three young children all under the age of 13 were upstairs in the house; there was a 13 year old downstairs in the living room when four individuals came into the house, masked and armed.

“They came in through the front door and Brian was viciously and brutally assaulted in the kitchen. The injuries sustained in that initial attack would themselves have been life-changing. They then removed him from the house and shot him in both knees with a shotgun.

“The level of violence and brutality in this attack far exceeds anything I’ve experienced in 29 years of police service. One would have to ask why such a level of brutality was used.

“There was certainly paramilitary involvement in this attack but another line of enquiry is that there may well have been some sort of personal grudge as well.”

Despite making 12 arrests and conducting numerous searches, police have so far been unable to bring those responsible before a court. DCI Harvey said: “One of the most disappointing aspects of this inquiry to date has been the lack of people who have come forward. To those who have, I thank them. But I would ask others to place themselves in the shoes of those young children in the house that night. Those children would have heard those screams of fear and those violent injuries being inflicted.

“That is going to affect them for the rest of their lives. The 13 year old would have had some sight of Brian lying injured in the front garden.

“Brian had five children himself. They, too, have been affected by his murder. I would appeal to anyone with information to come forward. Contact the detectives at Maydown on 101 or, if you do not wish to provide your details, please use the independent Crimestoppers charity number 0800 555 111.

“It may be that the shadow of paramilitary involvement which hangs over this incident is putting people off coming forward. But I would say to those people with information - put yourselves in the place of those children, Brian’s friends and family and the trauma they’ve been through.

“It is important for people to come forward. I would say we are tantalisingly close to placing the offenders before a court. Nothing justifies this murder in any way whatsoever.

“This is a very challenging and complex investigation. I believe we have identified the suspects who attacked Brian and I believe we identified a group of other individuals who were on the periphery of that attack and I would appeal to the community, to anyone with any information, to come forward and help us to bridge that evidential gap, to cross that line and place those people before the courts.

“People know who was involved. People know where they went afterwards. They haven’t come forward. There are people protecting those killers. I would appeal to those with information, no matter how small, to contact detectives.”

“For as long as those responsible for this attack remain at large, there is a possible threat to anyone in the north Antrim area. This was a vicious, brutal and sustained attack on a man who was visiting his friend. It is unusual for a town like Ballymoney and I understand how the community is shocked by what has happened. But I need people to think again about the events of 12 months ago, their impact on the McIlhagga family and Brian’s wider circle of friends. The family needs closure and the community deserves justice.

“I want to appeal to anyone who saw or heard anything in the area of the murder at Riverview Park and additionally in the area of Raceview Drive, Meadow View and Armour Avenue in Ballymoney between 10pm and 11pm on the night of Monday 5 January last year to contact police. I want to hear from anyone who saw men or vehicles moving in and around the area. It is not too late to do the right thing.”