Northern Ireland

Family of LVF victim Fergal McCusker calls for 'truth' 20 years on

Fergal McCusker's mother Christina and members of her family. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin.
Fergal McCusker's mother Christina and members of her family. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin.

RELATIVES of a Co Derry man murdered by the LVF 20 years ago have said families across the community "deserve answers, truth and accountability".

Fergal McCusker (28) was shot dead in Maghera as he made his way home from a night out on January 18 1998.

The callous attack, which came just weeks after the INLA's prison killing of LVF leader Billy Wright, sent shockwaves across south Derry.

Mr McCusker, who was known as ‘Ricky’ to friends, was targeted in an alleyway near the town centre minutes after leaving friends to visit a takeaway.

No-one has ever been charged and there has never been an inquest.

Four men were arrested but were later released.

Mr McCusker was killed just months after the LVF gunned down prominent GAA member Sean Brown in nearby Bellaghy.

The Maghera man's family believe there may be links between the murders and other sectarian killings in the area.

A member of Watty Graham’s GAA club, Mr McCusker had returned from America just two weeks before he was killed.

In a statement marking the 20th anniversary, his family said he was non-political and was "murdered simply because he was a Catholic”.

“This was a purely sectarian murder,” they said.

The family also said they believe collusion was a factor.

“They were state-run agents and collusion was a key feature of how they carried out attacks and murders.

“Their agenda was to break the emerging peace process and thwart any change for the better for everyone in this society.

“Thankfully they failed and the peace prevailed."

However, they added that “the peace without justice for Fergal is somewhat bittersweet”.

“Families in our position from across the community deserve answers, truth and accountability,” they said.

The McCusker family say members of the killer gang were seen acting suspiciously in Maghera for at least an hour before the murder.

They also claim it was six hours before the RUC responded to calls about the body.

The victim's 71-year-old mother Christina said the last time she was contacted by police was 19 years ago.

A 2009 Police Ombudsman report said it found no evidence of collusion.

It said the investigation was generally thorough but did identify several “major” failings.

This includes no record as to whether items that appear in crime scene photographs were seized or submitted for forensic examination.

It said police did not conduct an immediate search when the discovery of a body was reported "due to the possible threat of terrorist attack".

The family’s solicitor Pádraig Ó Muirigh said there are "grave concerns” about the case and “the role of state agents in the murder”.

He also claimed that within days the RUC was aware of the involvement of “a notorious loyalist gang” and there was key intelligence in relation to a vehicle used by the suspects.

Superintendent Ian Harrison, deputy head of the PSNI Legacy Investigation Branch, last night said a review into the murder was begun by the Historical Enquiries Team but was not completed by the time of its closure in 2014.

"Consequently, the inquiry now sits within the caseload of Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB) for fresh consideration.

"Given the extensive caseload of LIB and limited resources available, I am not in a position to provide any firm timescale as to when work on the case will commence.

"It will be our intention, however, to notify the family of Mr McCusker once this happens.

"It remains our commitment that where credible investigative lines of inquiry are identified, capable of leading to the identification and prosecution of suspects, that we will follow them."