The Murder of David McIlwaine
19th February 2000
David McIlwaine was murdered on 19th February 2000 near Tandragee in Northern Ireland. David was just eighteen years old. He lived at home with his parents in Portadown. The story of his murder is both terrible and tragic, but it is more than simply a personal tragedy for his family and friends; it is also a story of a failed police investigation. As is the case in so many other murders in Northern Ireland, the names of David’s killers are known, but no-one has been tried for his murder.
The following account has been put together from sources that are in the public domain. Some names and details have been omitted for legal reasons.
David’s death occurred against the background of a deadly feud among loyalist factions. On 27th December 1999 members of the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) gathered in a Portadown social club following a memorial service for their leader Billy Wright, himself murdered two years previously. They were set upon by members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), from whom the LVF had broken away. The UVF men were led by Richard Jameson, who was himself killed on 10th January 2000. His death led to a new phase in the feud between the UVF and the LVF, which in turn left many people dead, David among them.
None of this, though, was anything to do with David. A young graphic design student with his whole life before him, David had no connection of any kind with the paramilitaries. He had friends on all sides of the community. He died simply and only because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
On 19th February 2000 David was out having a good time at The Spot nightclub in Tandragee. Also enjoying the evening’s entertainment was another young man, 19 year old Andrew Robb. According to a newspaper report, he should not have been there: he was on bail on a charge of causing grievous bodily harm, subject to a nightly curfew and a ban on attending licensed premises or consuming alcohol. He and David did not go to the club together, but they met up there and were in and out of each other's company.
David and Andrew Robb left the club together at around 1:30 am. Andrew Robb was with his fiancée and another couple. All five young people were waiting for taxis. When their taxi came, Andrew Robb offered David a place in the cab, but the taxi driver refused to take so many passengers. Andrew Robb then decided to wait with David for another taxi to come along.
According to a website commemorating Andrew Robb, he and David then went over to a nearby bar, where Andrew Robb spoke to his uncle, who worked there. Shortly afterwards, they left and went to a house in Tandragree, which was the home of one of the main murder suspects. They may have been told that there was a party at the house. They went into the house at around 2:00 am. Others arrived at the house later and David and Andrew Robb left the house together with these men in two cars. It is thought that they went willingly, not suspecting that anything was wrong. When the cars stopped in Druminure Road, a lonely country lane, Andrew Robb was immediately stabbed and died instantly. David made a run for it, but was caught and killed some 150 yards down the road after a struggle. He was stabbed repeatedly before his throat was cut. His hands were cut to ribbons as he tried to defend himself. Both his body and that of Andrew Robb were very badly mutilated. Their bodies were discovered at around 9:30 that morning by a woman taking her children to their dancing class.
According to newspaper reports, the UVF had been lying in wait outside The Spot nightclub, planning to attack two LVF men. However, these two men had left the club earlier. The UVF men knew Andrew Robb, and when they recognised him they decided to kill him instead.
The police investigation into this brutal double murder went wrong right from the beginning. The police assumed that both boys were involved in loyalist paramilitary activity. However, although they arrested a number of suspects on 20th February 2000, they did so under the ordinary criminal law, rather than under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). All the suspects were released unconditionally on that same day. DCI Alan Todd told BBC Television News that a link with the loyalist feud had not been ruled out, but the arrests had not been made under the PTA. “To the discerning observer, they should draw their own conclusions from that,” he said. He also suggested, that the two young men might have been involved in scuffles in Tandragee the previous night. It was not until 23rd February that anyone was arrested under the PTA.
The RUC’s belief that David was in some way involved with the loyalists was evident to the family from the way they treated his body and its identification. They made no attempt to disguise his horrific injuries, leaving his uncle, who identified the body, severely traumatised. It was only once they realised that David was a completely innocent bystander that they began to treat the family with the respect that any bereaved relative is entitled to expect. By then, though, it was too late. His parents have never recovered from the trauma of David’s appalling death.
On 27th February the man whose house the two men had visited in Tandragee appeared in Armagh magistrates court charged with both murders. The police told the court that they had forensic evidence linking him to the killings. Indeed, the family had been told by the RUC that, the murders having taken place in the dark, there was considerable forensic evidence found at the scene. At this point the family was confident that the man who murdered their son would be brought to justice.
However, by December 2000 their confidence began to wane. The suspect was released on bail after the court was informed that the prosecution had doubts about their principal witness and the forensic evidence was only limited. On 6th February 2001 the DPP dropped the charges against the suspect. David’s family were given no reason for the DPP’s decision.
During 2001 two loyalists who died in the loyalist feud were reported by the media as having been questioned in relation to David and Andrew Robb’s murders, but were never charged.
From the point of view of David’s family, the police investigation into their son’s murder has run into the sand. Furthermore, five years after the murder there has still been no inquest. The family are at a loss to understand how an investigation which apparently had identified the main perpetrator within days of the killing could collapse so completely. Not only are they faced with the loss of David in the most heartbreaking circumstances, but they have been denied even the cold comfort of seeing his murderers brought to justice. It is hardly surprising that they have lost faith in the criminal justice system altogether.
The bodies are removed from the lonely road where the young men were murdered
[Photograph reproduced by kind permission of Pacemaker Press International]
25th February 2003