Call for PSNI to name group behind west Belfast murder

Mourners carry the coffin of Raymond Johnston at his funeral in Poleglass on Monday
Mourners carry the coffin of Raymond Johnston at his funeral in Poleglass on Monday

Unionists have called for the PSNI to name the dissident republican group it has linked to the brutal murder of a man in west Belfast last week.

Raymond Johnston, 28, died after two men opened fire on him in front of his partner and an 11-year-old child in a house in Glenbawn Avenue, Poleglass on February 13.

Raymond Johnston was shot dead in front of his partner and an 11-year-old child

Raymond Johnston was shot dead in front of his partner and an 11-year-old child

UUP MLA Doug Beattie and TUV leader Jim Allister have called for the PSNI to identify the group police believe to be behind the killing.

The PSNI issued three press statements on the killing, a brief one on the day of the murder, and one each on February 14 and 15. None of the statements suggested any paramilitary group was behind the murder.

However, as a five-minute press conference was closing on February 15, Detective Chief Inspector Geoff Boyce finally revealed to persistent journalists that “the main line of inquiry is that individuals connected to dissident republican groups have been involved. It is too early to speculate which group”.

Speaking to the News Letter on Monday, DCI Boyce confirmed that dissidents are still a key line of inquiry.

Another man, 43-year-old Joe Reilly, was shot dead nearby in October 2016, a murder which was claimed under the banner of ‘Republican Action Against Drugs’.

Asked if the same group was under suspicion for last week’s murder, DCI Boyce replied: “We are still at an early stage of the investigation and are keeping an open mind.”

TUV leader Jim Allister told the News Letter he has now written to Chief Constable George Hamilton for more transparency about the group linked to the murder by police.

“Following the murder of Mr Raymond Johnston there has been some speculation as to the possibility that a paramilitary group may have been involved,” he said. “The BBC, for example, reported that the main line of inquiry is that Mr Johnston was murdered by so-called dissidents.

“There is speculation locally that the murder may be linked to Republican Action Against Drugs, a group which apparently had former PIRA members and threatened to kill anyone involved in the murder of former IRA commander Gerard Jock Davison in 2015.

“I appreciate that this is a live murder investigation but surely the PSNI can comment on these reports and put them to bed if there is no substance to them. Can I ask if the weapon used has a history? And, if so, does that suggest organisational involvement?”

Mr Beattie also called for the groups responsible for the murder to be named.

“It is clear that there are still criminal elements who are prepared to use violence to kill and main people as they see fit, whether dissident republicans or Direct Action Against Drugs,” he told the News Letter.

“In addition to so-called punishment shootings, these gangs have murdered people in north and west Belfast.

“There is no excuse for this type of activity or for any group to be holding weapons, never mind using them.

“The police should name the groups responsible and local people need to step forward and help the police to close down these gangs.”

The PSNI responded that DCI Boyce stated less than 48 hours after the murder that individuals linked to dissident republican groups were the main line of inquiry. All media were invited to attend the press conference and all journalists had the opportunity to ask questions, it added.