Loyalist feud murder accused ‘made more than 20 calls to gunman’

Colin Horner was shot up to five times in front of his three-year-old son
Colin Horner was shot up to five times in front of his three-year-old son

A man charged with the loyalist feud-related murder of a father outside a supermarket was allegedly in phone contact with the suspected gunman more than 20 times, the High Court has heard.

Prosecutors claimed Joseph Blair was in a scout car advising the killer on victim Colin Horner’s movements in the lead up to shooting in Bangor, Co Down on May 28.

One call was said to last six minutes, while a co-accused allegedly took a photograph of Mr Horner’s Nissan Pulsar as it headed to the scene of the murder at Sainsbury’s car park.

Details emerged as 34-year-old Blair, of Shackleton Walk in Newtownards, was refused bail.

Mr Horner, originally from Carrickfergus, was shot up to five times in front of his three-year-old son.

Detectives have linked the killing to mounting tensions within the UDA’s South East Antrim brigade.

The victim was said to have relocated to Co Down amid fears for his safety – two months earlier his friend George Gilmore had been shot dead in Carrickfergus.

Blair is among three men charged with Mr Horner’s murder and possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life.

Mobile phone analysis and DNA evidence allegedly links him to a Ford Focus car believed to have been used to scout the victim’s movements.

A Crown lawyer claimed Blair was a passenger in that car, making calls to a suspected gunman travelling in a Ford Mondeo who has yet to be charged.

“It’s the police case that he (Blair) is advising him at that point in time that the deceased had left his home, and that they are tracking his car in the direction of Sainsbury’s car park,” the prosecutor said.

He alleged that Blair made 23 separate calls to the gunman during the surveillance operation.

The killers were said to have escaped in the Mondeo, later found burnt out on Kerr’s Road between Bangor and Newtownards.

Blair was arrested earlier this month, providing an alibi that he was at an address in Newtownards on the day of the murder.

But the prosecution contended that witnesses have given contrary accounts.

During interviews he also claimed to have lost his mobile phone at a party before the date of the shooting.

Ruling that Blair must remain in custody, Mr Justice Colton held that the presence of civilian witnesses put him in a different category from co-accused on bail.

The judge said: “The difference in this case is significant enough to tip the balance against granting bail.”