Detectives from Legacy Investigation Branch, investigating the murder of Omagh policeman, Constable Michael Ferguson, in Londonderry in January 1993, have revealed that they are following ‘definite lines of enquiry’ and believe they are ‘extremely close to progressing criminal justice’ against the killers.
They have made a fresh appeal for information on the anniversary of his murder and have urged those who know anything to ‘search their consciences’ and come forward to the police.
Constable Ferguson, from Kevlin Gardens, was shot dead while on duty in Shipquay Street in the city at around 2pm on Saturday, January 23, 1993 - 26 years ago today (Wednesday). Michael was a 21-year-old single man.
He was educated at St Colmcille's Primary School in Omagh and later at the Christian Brothers Grammar School. Outside his work, family and home, the leisure centre was one of his greatest loves and he was a regular visitor. He was a keep fit fanatic and particularly enjoyed running and swimming, having achieved various lifesaving awards. He had also clinched the Ulster Powerlifting Championship in 1990.
Constable Ferguson joined the then RUC in May, 1991, and after his initial training was sent to the Strand Road RUC Station in Londonderry in September that year. Before joining the RUC he worked part-time at Omagh Leisure Centre and also held a temporary post in the Department of Health and Social Services offices in Omagh for a short time.
Speaking to the Tyrone Constitution following his murder, grieving mother, the now late Kathleen Ferguson, described her son as "kind and considerate to young and old alike".
At the time of his funeral the then Bishop of Derry who officiated, the late Dr Edward Daly, described Constable Ferguson’s murder as “cold-blooded and cowardly”
He went on: “It was another of the vile acts which besmirches our country and has plunged yet another family into sorrow and heartbreak. There can be no place for this type of lawlessness, gangsterism and terrorism in a modern Christian society. These evil activities must be seen for the cruel and unchristian actions that they are. There is no justification whatsoever for these atrocities in our society at the present time – no moral justification, no political justification, no justification of any kind,” he said.
The senior investigating officer, Detective Inspector Conor Sweeney, from the Legacy Investigation Branch, outlined to a press conference on Saturday morning what had happened all those years ago.
“Michael, along with two colleagues, were attending a call to the Richmond Centre at around 2pm. Michael remained on the street when his two colleagues entered the shopping centre. A lone gunman approached Michael from behind and shot him twice in the back of the head.
“The gunman made off on foot along Shipquay Street before entering Castle Street in the direction of the Bogside. We are following a number of definite lines of enquiry and I believe we are extremely close to progressing criminal justice action against Michael’s killers.
“My appeal is aimed at the local people of Derry/Londonderry who were in Shipquay Street on the day Michael was murdered. The gunman did not have his face covered and was wearing a distinctive green jacket. I believe that someone knows who this gunman was.
“Michael was a young man murdered while responding to a reported theft from a local shop. I would ask everyone to just stop and think about that for a second – murdered for no other reason than he was providing a service to help local businesses, local community and local people.
“In the years since Michael’s murder, circumstances and allegiances may have changed, people’s lifestyles change and I want those who know who was involved that day to search their consciences and come forward to the police. I am aware that time has passed since the murder but it is not too late, if anyone now feels they are able to talk to us, we are ready to listen.
“To those involved I would appeal to them to do the right thing and make a difference to Michael’s family. They will no longer have to live with the worry that someday soon police are going to knock on their door.”
Detective Inspector Sweeney continued: “We are appealing for assistance from the local community who we still believe can help us, despite the amount of time which has elapsed. Anyone with information can contact detectives in Legacy Investigation Branch on 101 or LIBEnquiries@psni.pnn.police.uk. Alternatively, information can also be provided to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 which is 100% anonymous and gives people the power to speak up and stop crime.”
Shoppers and pedestrians were handed leaflets in the Shipquay Street area on Saturday morning, while a reconstruction of the events before and after Constable Ferguson’s murder took place on Sunday morning.
The chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, Mark Lindsay, spoke this week of his memories of the late Constable Ferguson and how he hoped progress would be made in the investigation of his murder.
"I went through initial training with Michael back in 1991. He was truly one of the gentlest, quietest people you could ever know, a gentle giant. He took everything in his stride, was very calm and very proud of his father who had served in the RUC before him."
He said he was hopeful Sunday's reconstruction event might open up new avenues for investigation.
"People move on with their lives and maybe have a chance over years to reflect on what had happened. Northern Ireland is in a different place and I'm sure the gunman or some of the witnesses are in different places in their lives now and I would be hopeful.
“I think when we look at the transformation in the city over the number of years, the police working with the community, the community working with the police and the out and out rejection of the violent methods that were used then, I think people should examine their conscience and come forward. I would be hopeful. People have seen that there is a better way and violence isn't the way forward and that's why I would like to see somebody coming forward with information they might have," he said.