In a dramatic turn of events on Wednesday 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.
Watching them from the side of the dock as they shook hands and gave the thumbs-up sign to friends and relatives was Mr Horner’s grieving mum 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 Mr Horner, gunned down in front of his three-year old son Oscar in the Bangor carpark 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, Carrickfergus 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 May 28, 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.