A leading loyalist went on trial today charged with murdering a lieutenant of Johnny Adair during a bitter feud within the Ulster Defence Association.
William Mo Courtney, 42, of Fernhill Heights, Belfast, has denied murdering Alan McCullough, 22, in May 2003.
McCullough’s body was found in a shallow grave, shot through the head, a week after he was last seen being driven away from his mother’s home in the Shankill Road area of Belfast by the accused, Belfast Crown Court was told.
Mr Courtney also denies further charges of membership of the Ulster Defence Association and membership of the Ulster Freedom Fighters.
Opening the non-jury trial before Mr Justice Higgins, barrister Geoffrey Millar, for the Crown, said McCullough had been a member of ’C’ company of the UDA under the command of Johnny ’Mad Dog’ Adair.
’C’ company had been expelled from the UDA in 2002, as relationships within the organisation’s command structure fragmented and there were a number of murder attempts on various commanders for which ’C’ company was blamed.
Mr Millar said McCullough, together with his girlfriend and other members of ’C’ company and their families were ordered out of the North by UDA leaders and he settled in Blackpool.
He said: “It is the Crown’s contention that the defendant William Courtney was a member of the UDA and that he was one of those who turned on the Adair faction and replaced Adair as commander of a new ’C’ company.”
The barrister said between February and April 2003, McCullough made efforts to return to the North. His mother Barbara spoke directly with Courtney on his behalf and also had conversations with him on his mobile phone.
She passed the phone number on to her son and records would show that Alan McCullough contacted Courtney by mobile phone and then returned to the North with his girlfriend early in April 2003.
He initially lived with various relatives before moving in with his mother in the Shankhill Road area of Belfast on May 20.
Mr Millar said on the May 26, McCullough was in his mother’s home at 6pm when he was picked up by the defendant driving a blue Mitsubishi car.
Evidence would be given that with others they drove to the Corrs Corner restaurant outside Belfast before McCullough returned to the house at 10pm. His mother noticed that the hems of his trousers were covered in muck, as were his trainers.
Two days later, McCullough was in the house when he received a call and had a brief conversation on his mobile phone and then left he house.
He was seen by his mother and other family members getting into the same blue Mitsubishi driven by the defendant.
“This was the last known sighting of Alan McCullough alive,” said Mr Millar.
When he failed to return, his mother launched a search, failing to contact either him or Courtney on their mobile phones and reported him missing to the police the following day.
A warrant was issued for Courtney’s arrest and police went to his home but he was not there.
Two days later he was arrested and twice questioned. He denied the murder and was eventually released without charge.
A week after the disappearance the police carried out a reconstruction of the last known movements of the blue Mitsubishi and the following morning a reader of the Irish News realised he had seen the car.
Mr Millar said the newspaper reader, known only as witness A, recalled driving down the Aughnabrack Road outside the city the previous week and finding his way blocked by such a blue Mitsubishi and a number of other vehicles.
He was forced to wait until a group of men emerged from a gateway, got in the cars and drove off.
Mr Millar said after reading about the reconstruction, witness A returned to the gateway, walked up a track where he found a derelict building and what appeared to be a body in a shallow grave. He contacted the police.
Police went to the scene and discovered the body but it was several days before it was removed.
The body was identified as that of McCullough and post mortem carried out by the state pathologist Professor Jack Crane showed he died from a bullet wound to the head.
In total he had been shot three or four times, the killer shot entering through the right nostril and into his brain.
Mr Millar said the Crown contention was that Mr McCullough had died shortly after he had disappeared on May 28 2003.