Charges have been withdrawn against four Craigavon loyalists over the murder of Sunday World journalist Martin O’Hagan.

However, the public prosecution service (PPS) insisted last night that all the men would be brought before the courts.

The 51-year-old reporter was shot dead by LVF gunmen in September 2001 as he walked home with his wife Marie from a pub in Lurgan.

As the couple were passing the loyalist Mourneview estate, a car pulled slowly alongside them just yards from their house.

Mr O’Hagan pushed his wife into a hedge as a gunman opened fire, hitting him several times in the body.

Mr O’Hagan’s murder was claimed by the Red Hand Defenders, but was widely regarded to have been carried out by the LVF.

In September 2008 Craigavon loyalists Drew King, Nigel Leckey, Robin King, Mark Kennedy and Neil Hyde were charged in connection with the killing.

Drew King, Hyde and Leckey were charged with murdering the reporter.

King’s brother Robin was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice, while Kennedy, a 28-year-old Catholic from south Belfast, was accused of helping to conceal a getaway car.

The evidence against the five is understood to have come from a witness, known only as ‘A’, who had gone to police in July 2007.

King’s defence raised concerns that the only evidence against their client was the witness statement from ‘A’, who it claimed was unreliable and had a criminal record dating back nearly 50 years.

A PPS spokesman told a court hearing in Craigavon yesterday that charges against King were now being withdrawn.

Charges were also withdrawn against Nigel Leckey, Robin King and Mark Kennedy.

However, it is understood the four could still face prosecution following speculation that they could be served with an indictable offence.

A PPS spokesman last night said: “The prosecution case will continue to be progressed against all of the accused.”

Neil Hyde is still charged with the murder.

Drew King’s solicitor Ciaran Shiels last night said it was a “matter of huge concern that any defendant should have been charged and remanded in custody to Maghaberry Prison on the basis of statements of a witness so lacking in credibility”.

“Witness A’s allegations were uncorroborated by any other form of evidence whether it be forensic, identification or admissions made in interview,” he said.

“When making decisions in the future to charge citizens with offences, particularly serious offences, the PPS must do so with much more care than was exhibited in this case.”