THE Garda Cold Case Unit is expected to re-arrest the man described yesterday as a "dirty, filthy scumbag" heroin dealer who is the chief suspect in the murder of a 12-year-old boy in Tallaght seven years ago.
Gardai had been unable to move on the case because a witness to the murder withdrew his statement after his life was threatened by the killer, who local people yesterday described as a "total psycho" and who has links with dangerous criminals in the Tallaght and south Dublin area.
A man claiming to be a witness to the murder said last week that his conscience had got the better of him and he wanted to testify. He pleaded with gardai to take him into the witness protection scheme as, he said, Stephen Hughes-Connor's killer had made a determined effort to murder him as well.
He said, and sources in Tallaght yesterday agreed, that he was kidnapped by the killer and narrowly escaped being murdered a year ago.
A garda file on the murder of Stephen Hughes-Connors went to the Director of Public Prosecutions five years ago but it was decided there was not enough evidence to bring charges.
The chief suspect, now in his 40s, has moved from the area, though his former partner and children still live in the Rossfield Estate, in Tallaght.
It appeared yesterday that almost everybody in the area knew the identity of the suspect and what had happened. A number referred to him as a "psycho" who'd caused great problems in the area because of his heroin dealing and constant threats to neighbours.
He lived only a short distance from the make-shift hut that Stephen and a friend were camping out in overnight on September 1, 2001. Grainy pictures from a CCTV camera on a house front just two doors from the hut showed a man walking to the front of the hut then walking away, and coming back with an object he then throws into the hut.
There is a flash as the petrol bomb explodes in the hut where Stephen and his friend were camping.
Stephen had told his mother, Elizabeth, that he was staying at his friend's house but the two decided to camp out in their hut. Stephen's friend escaped with minor injuries.
Local people said the man had threatened to kill a number of young boys a day or two before the murder of Stephen, after being shouted at for beating his partner outside their house. At the time, the residents, who asked not to be named, said the man was dealing heroin from his house. Both he and his partner, they said, were addicts.
"He was a dirty filthy scumbag who was dealing heroin from his front door. He cleared off out of here a while ago. He started kids on heroin. He should be doing life for murdering Stephen. The coppers didn't do anything."
One of Stephen's friends, named by local people as Dean Freeman, died two years ago at the age of 17 from a heroin overdose.
The murder of young Stephen was investigated by Tallaght gardai and the National Bureau of Crime Investigation, but went nowhere when the witness withdrew his statement.
The witness, who says he had been standing at a corner with his girlfriend only 20m to 30m away when the attack took place, now wants to give evidence, as long as gardai can ensure his protection.
Local people said that the witness was in prison up until about a year ago and that, during that time, the chief suspect was determined to murder him on his release.
The witness told a newspaper last week that he was lured to a meeting in Tallaght last year and when he got there, Stephen's killer and a number of other men pulled up in a van and car and attacked him. He said he was beaten with a baseball bat, then slung into a van and a cover put over his head. A gun was forced into his mouth and he was stabbed in the leg, the witness claimed. He said he believed they were about to kill him when people came on the scene, and the gang dumped him and drove off.
Detectives from the Cold Case Unit have had the file on the case for over a year and are now expected to move. Gardai do not comment when a witness has been brought into the witness protection scheme.
Stephen Hughes-Connors' family welcomed the apparent decision of the witness to eventually come forward.
In a statement, they said: "With regard to possible new developments in Stephen's case, we would just like to welcome the news that a witness who previously gave a statement to the gardai in relation to what he had seen on the night in question has come forward once again.
"We were aware that at the time of his first interview, this particular person withdrew his statement out of fear for his life. But we are very happy, relieved, and hopeful, that he has decided to go back to the gardai to make a full statement in relation to what he witnessed on the night we lost our young son.
"No one could possibly know what life has been like for us as a family since the day that Stephen was so abruptly, and for no reason, taken away from us. His death tore our family apart and left his brothers, sisters, grandparents, friends and extended family devastated."