05 April 2006

Shotgun horror of murdered spy

Belfast Telegraph

Donaldson tried to shield face from blast

By Sarah Brett in Glenties and Chris Thornton
05 April 2006

Murdered agent Denis Donaldson may have only had enough time to shield his face from a shotgun blast when his killers pounced, it emerged today.

Donaldson - who had been arrested for being an IRA spy only to later admit he was a British agent - was faced with his killer on Monday night or early yesterday.

When the gunman burst into the cottage in a mountainous part of west Donegal, Donaldson appears to have had only enough time to shield his face from a shotgun blast.

That blast nearly severed one of his hands and may have caused fatal wounds, but initial assumptions are that a second blast to the head killed him.

Garda detectives discovered two shotgun shells at the cottage in Doochary and there were signs of a break-in.

Police had seen the former Sinn Fein official in nearby Glenties on Monday night, and a neighbour found his body yesterday after noticing the door was ajar.

An autopsy due to take place today was expected to narrow down the time of death.

Detectives were trying to retrace Donaldson's final hours today as the British and Irish governments were absorbing the political repercussions of his grisly death.

The murder of the 56-year-old spy inside a remote Donegal cottage sparked off a major Garda manhunt as well as sparking damage limitation exercises in London and Dublin.

Mr Donaldson's son, Denis Jnr, told a morning newspaper that his family had been devastated by the death.

Speaking to The Mirror last night, he said: "At the minute we only have the same information as everyone else has, what is on the news.

"I spoke to my father yesterday and he seemed fine. He said he was going to get credit on his mobile and would phone me back today.

"I tried to phone him earlier today but it just rang off. I didn't think anything was wrong.

"Despite all that has been written and all that has been said, he was still a father and a husband and I would ask people to respect our family's grief at this time."

At the same time, speculation was building about who carried out the murder. Blame has been attached to IRA members who bore a grudge against Donaldson for two decades of informing against them, or dissident republicans who see the murder as an opportunity to derail the political process.

Republicans have also suggested British intelligence could have been responsible, saying their motive would have been to silence their former agent who had already spoken extensively to the republican movement about his activities as an agent.

The IRA denied the murder last night and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams condemned the killing "without reservation".

Whoever carried out the killing has effectively thrown another spanner into the Government's plans for reviving Stormont.

With less than 24 hours to go before Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern visit Northern Ireland to discuss a new set of proposals, unionists were revisiting questions about whether republican violence has ended.

The Independent Monitoring Commission is due to issue a report on the state of paramilitary violence later this month, but the Donaldson murder does not fall into the reporting period for that upcoming statement.

West Donegal Sinn Fein councillor, Pearse Doherty, said that local people were both shocked and afraid after the murder.

"It's shocking that something like this has happened in such a rural and isolated area, people are rightly afraid themselves."

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