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Loughinisland massacre suspect sets up coffee stand near scene of the atrocity

This is Loughinisland massacre suspect Ronnie Hawthorn helping to run a coffee stand just a few miles from the scene of the atrocity.

Hawthorn yesterday refused to answer questions about the outrage when confronted by a Sunday Life reporter at the Thirsty Herd stall. A woman with him told us to “p*** off”.

As the 27th anniversary of the massacre approaches this week, our exclusive pictures show the man named as the UVF gunman who murdered six men at the Heights Bar as they watched the Republic of Ireland play Italy in a World Cup football match in June 1994.

Brazen Hawthorn can be seen casually helping to set up the takeaway stall on the Dundrum Road, in the village of Clough in Co Down.

The food and drinks trailer sits by the side of a road only six miles from the scene of the sectarian massacre allegedly carried out by Hawthorn and two accomplices. It is registered in the name of a relative of Hawthorn’s.

We wanted to ask the ex-UDR soldier if he had anything to say to the families of the victims of Loughinisland, but he told our reporter to “go on our way”, while a woman with him shouted “p*** off”.

The murdered men, all Catholics, were: Barney Green (87), Dan McCreanor (59), Malcolm Jenkinson (53), Eamon Byrne (39), Patsy O’Hare (35) and Adrian Rogan (34).

Aidan O’Toole, the barman, survived despite being struck by bullets in the kidneys.

This Friday is the 27th anniversary of the killings, but nobody has ever been convicted for the murders.

Hawthorn has denied being involved in the killings despite being identified repeatedly as the triggerman, saying he was named based on leaked security documents, hearsay and conjecture.

The Thirsty Herd was set up earlier this year.

There has a been social media campaign locally linking Hawthorn to the business.

Its Facebook page, which is covered in praise for its fare, describes the Thirsty Herd as “the best coffee shop on wheels in the Clough/Dundrum area”.

“We offer our customers a choice of speciality coffees, tea, hot chocolate and fresh homemade baked goodies,” it adds.

A source told this newspaper that Hawthorn was still heavily involved with loyalism in the south Down area. He has also been spotted erecting anti-Northern Ireland Protocol posters in the village of Clough.

The source said Hawthorn can operate openly in the area because most people are fearful of him due to his reputation.

He and his wife Hilary previously ran a commercial cleaning firm called Building Cleaning Services and Active Pest Control.

The company carried out office cleaning across Northern Ireland, including in the heart of nationalist west Belfast.

But it is understood to have lost contracts after Hawthorn was named as the Loughinisland gunman in the award-winning film about the killings, No Stone Unturned.

The 2017 documentary, made with the help of journalists Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney, also identified one of his accomplices as Gorman McMullan, claiming he drove the getaway car. Another local man who was part of the gang has not been seen since the late 1990s.

In 2013, Sunday Life named McMullan as the loyalist police believe was the getaway driver.

An investigation into the massacre by Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire found there had been collusion between RUC Special Branch officers both before and after the attack.

However, a Court of Appeal ruling last year said Dr Maguire had “overstepped the mark” by saying officers had been involved in criminal offences.

No Stone Unturned featured interviews with officers who were part of the Loughinisland investigation team speaking on the record for the first time.

One of them was Jimmy Binns who, along with colleagues, quizzed Hawthorn after he was arrested as a main suspect in the killings.

“We interviewed Hawthorn, yeah. He had been arrested probably early hours, five or six o’clock in the morning,” explained Mr Binns. “He wasn’t stressed, that’s for sure. In my mind, he was just a terrorist. Just a hateful, hating bigot. Killing a Catholic to him was like wiping a fly off his shoe.

“If I had got in his way I have no doubt he would have shot me too.”

Mr Binns said the interview was merely a box-ticking exercise because he believed members of the gang were being protected within the RUC.

Police were told the attack was due to take place by an informer in the gang but did not arrest the suspects after the agent told them it had been called off.

The gang was also allegedly warned that they were about to be interviewed by police before they were arrested.

Hawthorn’s wife Hilary was named by the filmmakers as having identified the members of the gang in two anonymous calls to a confidential police line.

Her voice was recognised because she had worked as a member of civilian cleaning staff at Newcastle RUC station.

She was also revealed to be the author of an anonymous letter sent to local SDLP councillor Patsy Toman which named the men involved.

It said: “I was privy to the original planning of the murders. I pulled out of the attack because of a prior engagement I couldn’t cover up.

“This information will somehow ease my conscience but will never truly clear my name, but I do this for the family and the children of the men who were slaughtered in Loughinisland.”

The letter was signed “Contributed, may we live in peace”.

Hilary Hawthorn was arrested and questioned in November 1995 but never charged, with police later admitting the interview notes had been destroyed.

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