Coroner unable to determine identity of taxi driver’s killers

An inquest found that Michael McGibbon died in an attack in north Belfast that was intended as a ‘paramilitary punishment shooting’.

David Young
Friday 25 February 2022 17:00
Michael McGibbon (PSNI/PA)
Michael McGibbon (PSNI/PA)

A coroner investigating the death of a taxi driver murdered by dissident republicans said she has been unable to determine the identity of those involved in the shooting.

Michael McGibbon was shot twice in the leg in a paramilitary-style attack in an alleyway close to his home in Ardoyne in north Belfast in April 2016.

The 33-year-old father of four had been ordered to attend the area by the dissident grouping styling itself as the New IRA amid claims he had acted inappropriately with three female passengers in his taxi.

Delivering her findings in the inquest on Friday, coroner Maria Dougan said the shooting was intended to be a “paramilitary punishment shooting” but one of the bullets had severed an artery in Mr McGibbon’s left leg, causing his death in hospital around five hours after the attack.

Family and friends attend the funeral of Michael McGibbon at Holy Cross Church in Belfast (PA)

The shooting was subsequently claimed by the New IRA.

The fatal incident unfolded a day after two men claiming to be from “the RA” called at the family home and demanded to speak to Mr McGibbon.

The men, whose faces were covered with scarves, failed to force entry into the house but warned they would be back the next day.

The incident was reported to the police.

The inquest heard evidence that the following day Mr McGibbon made inquiries with well-known Ardoyne republican Dee Fennell to find out why the men wanted him.

The court heard claims that later that day Mr Fennell relayed a message that paramilitaries wanted to see him that night at 10pm and, if he did not attend, he should leave the country.

Mr McGibbon attended at the prearranged meeting place and was shot twice in the left leg while lying face down in the alleyway.

His wife, who is a nurse, rushed to the scene and attempted to treat her husband.

Mr Fennell was arrested in the wake of the shooting along with two other men but was not charged.

He declined to answer questions at the inquest but did deliver a statement saying he “played absolutely no part” in the death or events surrounding it.

I find on the balance of probabilities that this shooting was intended to be a paramilitary punishment shooting, however one of the bullets lacerated the deceased's popliteal artery which subsequently caused his death

Coroner Maria Dougan

Delivering her findings at Belfast Coroner’s Court, Ms Dougan said: “I find on the balance of probabilities that the deceased attended Brompton gap at approximately 10pm on April 15 2016 by arrangement and was shot twice in his left leg by members of a paramilitary organisation.

“I find on the balance of probabilities that this shooting was intended to be a paramilitary punishment shooting, however one of the bullets lacerated the deceased’s popliteal artery which subsequently caused his death.

“On the evidence before me, I am unable to determine the identity of the person or persons involved in the shooting.”

The inquest had heard evidence about the challenges presented by security gates dividing loyalist and nationalist areas in north Belfast that blocked several potential routes from the scene to the Royal Victoria Hospital.

The coroner found that the ambulance had managed to cross the peace line at Lanark Way through a gate opened remotely by police.

She ruled that the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service acted in a “timely and appropriate” way in relation to the care and treatment of Mr McGibbon.

The coroner said she was also “encouraged” that discussions were ongoing between the Department of Justice and all emergency services aimed at establishing a formal memorandum of understanding (MOU) on opening security gates in emergency situations.

Ms Dougan also passed her sympathies to the McGibbon family.

“I’d like to pass on my sincere condolences to Mrs McGibbon and her children on the loss of a much-loved husband and father,” she said.

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