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Son of Sean Brown calls for more support from GAA hierarchy on 20th anniversary of loyalist murder

Twenty years since the shocking murder of Co Derry GAA official Sean Brown, a son has called for greater support from the GAA hierarchy as the family seek answers through a long-delayed inquest

GAA official Sean Brown was murdered in Bellaghy 20 years ago
Connla Young

A son of murdered Co Derry GAA official Sean Brown has said they have been disappointed at the level of support received from the association's leadership as they mark the 20th anniversary of his death.

The 61-year-old was abducted by the LVF as he locked the gates at Bellaghy Wolfe Tones GAC 20 years ago yesterday.

He was taken to a country lane outside Randalstown in Co Antrim where he was shot six times.

His remains were found beside his burning car.

No-one has ever been charged in connection with his death.

A father-of-six, Mr Brown was well known in south Derry as a dedicated family man and chairman of the Bellaghy GAA club.

As an instructor at the Institute of Mechanical Engineering in Ballymena, he was also known to take a personal interest in his students.

The Brown family and many nationalists suspect there was security force collusion in the attack.

Two years ago former SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly accused the PSNI of continuing to protect his killers, who she believes were British agents.

Chief constable George Hamilton denied the claim.

Speaking on the anniversary, Mr Brown's son Damian said his family have been "greatly heartened" by support at GAA club level in Bellaghy and elsewhere but feel let down by the association's top brass.

“In terms of the GAA we have had a lot of support from the grass roots level in the north but active involvement from the GAA at provincial and national level would be at a minimum and has been lacking up to this point,” he said.

“We are disappointed at the level of support we have received.”

Recently appointed Ulster GAA chief executive Brian McAvoy insisted the association is behind the family.

“Ulster GAA and the wider GAA family stand shoulder to shoulder with the Brown family in their ongoing quest for justice,” he said.

“The murder of Sean Brown in May 1997 was described at the time by GAA president Joe McDonagh as ‘an outlandish and outrageous act'.

“Those comments are as true today as they were then.”

Mr McAvoy also paid tribute to the murdered club official.

“Sean was a pillar of the community and a giant of the GAA world and nowhere more so than in his beloved Bellaghy.

“Twenty years on from his killing there has been no inquest and no-one has ever been brought to justice over the murder."

Mr Brown also said it was “scandal” that a full inquest has yet to be held into his father's murder.

To date the family has attended almost 30 coroner court hearings linked to the case.

It is one of dozens being held up due to a lack of resources.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire has been accused of refusing to make funds available for Troubles-related inquests, saying that money would not be released until political agreement is reached on all legacy issues.

The Brown family solicitor, Kevin Winters, said his case is one of several being considered in the High Court over delays.

“We have written to the coroner and families are still waiting,” he said.

“Yet again families have to resort to the courts to get access to information about the case.”

Eyebrows were raised in some GAA circles earlier this year when the association invited Mr Brokenshire to the Dr McKenna Cup final in Newry.

The Tory MP did not take his seat until after the Irish national anthem was played.

Paul O'Connor from the Pat Finucane Centre, which provides support to the Brown family, said delays in getting the inquest up and running are unacceptable.

“It is truly shocking that this family have had to attend so many hearings and they are having to fight for justice,” he said.

“This case could have been resolved many, many years ago had there been a proper investigation at the time.”

Mr O'Connor said questions still hang over the ability of the killers to drive Mr Brown past Toome RUC station, which was on the main road between Belfast and Derry and was regularly used by security forces to set up checkpoints.

“For the family it's one of the absolute key questions,” he said.

The PSNI has also come in from criticism over delays in disclosing documents.

In 2015 chief constable George Hamilton was ordered to attend a coroner's court to explain why police were refusing to hand over a Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report to Mr Brown's family.

The PSNI was later ordered to hand the findings over.

The same year nationalist politicians on Magherafelt Policing and Community Safety Partnership boycotted a meeting of the body in response to a call from the Brown family.

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The murder of Sean Brown sent shockwaves throughout Ireland.

His abduction and brutal killing came just weeks after Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness was elected as MP for Mid Ulster.

A dedicated GAA man, Mr Brown presented the softest of targets in the mainly nationalist village of Bellaghy as he locked the gates at his local club.

The LVF gang responsible, which is understood to have been based in Portadown, may have been hitting out in response to Mr McGuinness's election and is

believed by some to have had local help.

Former LVF boss Mark ‘Swinger' Fulton was questioned about the murder but never charged.

He was found hanged in prison in 2002 while awaiting trial for conspiracy to murder another loyalist.

Fulton was a close associate of Billy Wright, who set up the LVF after he was expelled from the UVF in 1996, and he took over as leader when Wright was shot dead by the INLA in the H-Blocks in 1997.

He is reported to have been involved in around a dozen sectarian murders in the 1990s.

Mr Brown was well respected in his home village by both sides of the community.

At his funeral a poem written by a 12-year-old Protestant neighbour was read out to the congregation.

“Sean was a very good neighbour and a very good friend, too… all the love in my heart goes out to his family,” she wrote.

Tributes were also paid by fellow Bellaghy man and former Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney.

A year before his murder Mr Brown had hosted a special cross-community celebration to mark Mr Heaney's Nobel accolade.

In an emotional letter to The Irish News, Mr Heaney described his former neighbour as “a man of integrity and good will”.

“He represented something better than we have grown used to, something not quite covered by the word reconciliation because that word had become a policy word - something official and public.

"This was more like purification, a release from what the Greeks called miasma, the stain of spilled blood.

“It is a terrible irony that the man who organised such an event should die at the hands of a sectarian killer.”

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