Security cameras which could have captured the murder of a Catholic postman more than 12 years ago were not working when the gunmen struck, an inquest has been told.
Daniel McColgan was shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries as he arrived for work at a sorting office on the outskirts of Belfast in January 2002.
The 20-year-old father-of-one was hit multiple times in the head and body as he lay face down on the ground.
At a long-awaited inquest in Belfast’s Laganside courthouse, it was revealed video cameras were installed after loyalists fired shots during a sectarian attack on the depot – in the Rathcoole estate, Newtownabbey, on the edge of the city – four or five years earlier.
But the system failed to record the murder of Mr McColgan, the court was told.
Richard Strutt, the now-retired office manager, said there had been no policy for ensuring consistent and proper use of the camera equipment or for quality assuring the recording process.
Mr Strutt told the court that when he viewed the tapes with a police officer in the immediate aftermath of the shooting he was shocked and surprised to see images from 1999.
He said: “It was horrifying what was on it. I just could not understand it. Nothing was recorded of that particular morning.”
A gatekeeper who should have started duty at 5am on the day of the shooting, January 12 2002, was also on sick leave, it was revealed.
Mr Strutt, who left Royal Mail nine years ago, conceded it was “sheer neglect” that the workforce had not been adequately protected despite safety concerns being raised by a union representative.
“There was a failure on certain days and at certain times,” he added.
Barrister Joseph McAvoy, representing the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), told the inquest that when the tape was recovered it was in a fully rewound position.
Coroner John Leckey said it was unclear whether the system had malfunctioned, if the record button had not been pressed or if an individual with malevolent intent had gained access to the camera on the morning of the shooting.
Mr Leckey said: “It should have recorded the events surrounding Daniel McColgan’s murder. The fact that it didn’t is due to either a malfunction or some individual had access to the camera and de-selected the record button.”
Nobody has been convicted of the shooting, which was initially claimed by the Red Hand Commando – a cover name for the outlawed loyalist group the Ulster Defence Association.
In a media statement claiming responsibility for the murder, the terror gang said it regarded all Catholic workers at the Rathcoole depot as legitimate targets and vowed to “intensify” its campaign.
The work was later transferred to another mail centre at a different location.
The hearing was told that Mr McColgan, from the Longlands estate in Newtownabbey, was a hard-working, popular and likeable member of staff who usually arrived half an hour early for his shift.
Colleagues who gave evidence said there was some football-related “banter” among workers but anything of a sectarian nature would have been stamped out by management.
Friends and members of the McColgan family wiped away tears as details of Mr McColgan’s injuries were read to the court.
State pathologist Professor Jack Crane’s report concluded that having been shot, Mr McColgan collapsed and was lying face down when the majority of the 11 bullets were fired.
Although the injuries to his body and limbs would have caused massive internal bleeding, it was a shot to the side of his forehead which proved fatal.
Despite desperate efforts to revive him, he died a short time after the incident at the Mater Hospital in Belfast.
It has also emerged that his mother, Marie McColgan, did not live to see the inquest she wanted held.
Mr Leckey said: “I think it is very sad that she did not survive to be able to participate at the inquest into Daniel’s death.”
The hearing is scheduled to last for a week.