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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 24 April, 2019

Four men jailed for life over loyalist killing of man who was shot dead in front of his son

The killing was linked to a UDA feud in Antrim.

download (12) Colin Horner

IN A DRAMATIC turn of events today, four Co Down men were jailed for life for their involvement in the May 2017 loyalist feud killing of 35-year-old father-of-two Colin Horner, shot three times by a lone gunman.

Watching them from the side of the dock as they shook hands and gave the thumps-up sign to friends and relatives was his mother Leslie. At one point she made as if to approach the dock, but was ushered away to rejoin her son’s partner Natasha.

The killing of Horner, gunned down in front of his three-year old son Oscar in the Bangor car park of Sainsbury supermarket was linked at the time to the South East Antrim UDA feud which claimed the life two months earlier of his friend, Carrick loyalist Geordie Gilmore.

The four men were about to go on trial at Belfast Crown Court, already delayed for two days, when defence counsel, in thanking Mr Justice Colton for the time given, asked for their clients to be rearraigned, on the murder charge and for possessing the gun used in the Balloo Link Retail Park shooting on 28 May 2017.

As the charges were put to Newtownards men Alan James Wilson (30) of North Green, Joseph Blair (35), of Shackleton Walk, Robert Ralph, (47) of Donaghadee Road, and 31-year-old Bangor man Ryan Graham Smyth of Windsor Gardens, they each pleaded guilty.

Following their pleas, Mr Justice Colton told the men they would be jailed for life, “the only sentence open” to him in the circumstances.

However, he added that next week, when their various roles in the shooting would be detailed to the court, he would also hold a tariff hearing to determine how long they would each serve of their life terms before being considered for release.

A murder charge against a fifth man, 48-year-old Adrian Gordon Price, of Bristol Park, Newtownards, was not proceeded with by the prosecution and “allowed to remain on the books”, after he pleaded guilty to an additional count of withholding information about the murder between June and October 2017.

And a 24-year old Conlig woman Terrie Aicken, from Green Road, pleaded guilty to a similar charge of withholding information in June 2017, after which the more serious charge of perverting public justice “by making a false statement to police” was also allowed to “remain on the books”.

They were later released on continuing bail, while their four co-accused, were remanded into custody.

Victim impact

The heartbroken mother of Colin Horner said today  she was relieved that four men who admitted his murder are now behind bars.

Lesley Horner – who attended court with her sisters Angela and Heather, and daughter Sophie, along with Colin’s partner Natasha – said the family can now start to grieve, and to begin to rebuild their lives.

Speaking outside Laganside Court, the north Belfast mum said it had been vital for them to be in court, before adding: “It’s very difficult because Colin – his life is gone, they took his life. 

We will never see him again, but justice is done and at least there’s four taken off the street.

When asked how she felt when the four men admitted murdering her son, Lesley Horner said: “There’s no words to describe it. No words, to actually look at them and see that they murdered your child and they’re standing laughing and turning round to their supporters in the dock. It just demolishes you.

“I just hope now that we can maybe try and start grieving for my son properly and try and rebuild some sort of life for me and my children and grandchildren.”

Lesley Horner described her grandson as a “beautiful boy” and said the youngster “is going okay” after witnessing his dad’s murder. She said: ” There is a lot of love and a lot of support. We all look after him and fill his life with colour.”

She will be back in court to see her son’s killers sentenced next Tuesday.

She said: “We had to be here today, we had to see justice for my son. We’re relieved it hasn’t gone on so long … we were expecting a big trial. 

I don’t think happy is the right word to use, but we can now maybe start to build some sort of life. I just hope my son is up there looking down, dancing in the sky.

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About the author:

Michael Donnelly

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