Northern Ireland

Lurgan 'gripped with tension and fear' in aftermath of two murders inside a month

Natalie McNally was stabbed to death inside her Lurgan home. Picture by Pacemaker
Natalie McNally was stabbed to death inside her Lurgan home. Picture by Pacemaker

LURGAN is "gripped with tension and fear" in the aftermath of two unsolved murders in the past month, it was claimed last night.

The stabbing in December of 32-year-old Natalie McNally, who was 15 weeks pregnant, and the shooting of Shane Whitla last week have left people in the Co Armagh town, especially women, feeling vulnerable, while there are also fears of an escalation in gangland-related violence.

Unfounded speculation about the murders on social media is also fuelling concern. On Friday, the senior PSNI officer investigating last week's killing said police were not linking Mr Whitla's death with that of Ms McNally, who was stabbed to death in her home less than two miles from Lord Lurgan Park, where the shooting victim's body was discovered.

Press reports have linked the killing of Mr Whitla (39) to a criminal gang known as The Firm, which is said to have its power base in Lurgan.

At the weekend police were given an extra 36 hours to question a 29-year-old suspect in relation to Mr Whitla's murder on Thursday.

Lisburn Magistrates Court heard how the victim was found with a puncture wound to his throat. A police officer told the court a post-mortem examination established that Mr Whitla had died as a result of a “bullet wound to the chest”.

Ms McNally's killing at her Silverwood Green home on December 18 caused widespread revulsion.

A 46-year-old man arrested in south Belfast on Friday on suspicion of murder has been released on bail.

Upper Bann MLA Jonathan Buckley told The Irish News it had been a "very difficult month for the community of Lurgan".

"People are unable to comprehend and take-in the callous murder of Natalie McNally," he said.

"They see such hurt and feel every emotional interview that the family have given; the community is unwilling and unable to simply let this go until her murderer is placed behind bars – it has rightly raised the issue of violence against women to be taken with the seriousness it deserves."

Mr Buckley said the second murder inside four weeks had also shocked the community.

"Then to hear of another murder, in such a public place as Lord Lurgan Park, has caused the community to say: 'This is not Lurgan'", he said.

"This is not who we are as people – our public places are safe and our people are warm and friendly."

Former SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said Lurgan was "gripped with tension and fear" in the wake of the two unrelated murders. She said many women were afraid due to the nature of Ms McNally's killing.

"The information that has emerged about Natalie's murder indicates that it was premeditated and that whoever carried it out went to her house with the intention to kill," she said.

"Obviously those circumstances and the fact that nobody has yet to be charged, frightens a lot of people."

Mrs Kelly welcomed moves by the PSNI to discount any association between Shane Whitla's killing and Ms McNally's murder.

"Social media speculation does not help matters," she said.