Father speaks of son’s ‘evil murder’

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THE father of a man murdered a year ago in a brutal attack in Ballymoney said the tragic slaying “was such an evil thing”. Story: Nevin Farrell

Ronnie McIlhagga (66) has appealed for the public to come forward to help catch his son’s killers on the first anniversary of the barbaric attack.

42-year-old Brian McIlhagga - known as ‘Brick’ to his friends - was a father-of-five and and well-known as a plasterer in Ballymena but whilst visiting a friend 25 miles from his home on January 5, 2015, he was first beaten by masked men wielding iron bars and then shot in the legs with a shotgun.

Police believe there was paramilitary involvement and as the PSNI prepared to launch a major publicity offensive on Tuesday in a bid to snare the killers, Ronnie McIlhagga hopes there will be progress in the case.

As well as distributing leaflets, police have also mounted their appeal on a trailer which will be driven through the Ballymoney area on Tuesday.

Ronnie McIhagga, well-known in Ballymena as a former worker at the JTI Gallaher cigarette factory, is hoping for a positive outcome but fears that may not be the case.

He said on Monday night: “The police were out with me this morning telling me about it (the anniversary appeal). Whether it will be any use or not I don’t know.”

He added: “I was told by another source these boys (the killers) have closed ranks, there will be nothing said among them and I would say anyone who maybe would have been looking to say something is scared to say anything.

“But we will see what comes out of this, if anything.”

Mr McIlhagga said his family circle including Brian’s five children - aged from 22 to eleven - had tried to put a brave face on their first Christmas without him.

Said Ronnie: “Life has to go on and the whole family has been supporting each other. It doesn’t get any easier at this time of the year.”

He said it was a tough Christmas and New Year but they got through it as best they could.

“We got it in not too bad,” he said.

Added Mr McIlhagga: “People always talk about this ‘closure’ thing but we never got closure. It has been a long year and I have had many’s a thought but life has to go and you have to try and keep the head above water and do the best you can especially for the young ones.

“It was such an evil thing (the murder). The police report talks about how evil the attack was. I have my own thoughts which wouldn’t be printable.”

He said he made an appeal on tv six months ago for the public to give information “but nothing came of that” but is still hoping for a positive outcome.

Brian McIlhagga, who was separated, lived at home with his dad Ronnie and mum Jennifer at Cromkill Road near Ballymena, and in early 2015 had been travelling to Ballymoney to visit his friend, mum-of-four Ashley Craig (33).

At least three masked men broke into Ashley’s house at Riverview Park around 10.30pm on Monday January 5, 2015, and after assaulting her in the kitchen they dragged Mr McIlhagga through the house and assaulted him with crowbars before shooting him once in the legs.

Suffering serious injuries, he tragically passed away at the scene despite ambulances being quickly dispatched to the scene.

Ms Craig’s four children, the eldest of whom was 13 at the time, were in the house as the late night horror unfolded, and were left traumatised.

Mr McIlhagga is survived by his parents, brother Pete and sister Susan, as well as his five children aged 22, 18, 13-year-old twins and another child aged 11.