Police have launched a murder investigation after a leading loyalist who was shot in Carrickfergus yesterday died.
Head of Serious Crime Branch Detective Chief Superintendent Raymond Murray said while the investigation into George ‘Geordie’ Gilmore’s murder was at an early stage “we have definite lines of enquiry”.
“I would appeal to local people to help us identify the person or persons who orchestrated and carried out this ruthless attack in broad daylight,” he added.
“Those involved had no consideration for the local community when they carried out their attack in a residential street populated with families, young children and older people. Help us remove them from your community and place them before the courts.”
There has been a heavy police presence on the streets of the Co Antrim town amid fears of reprisals after the shooting.
Gilmore was shot in the neck as he sat in his car in Pinewood Avenue in an attack linked to an ongoing feud between loyalist factions.
Just hours earlier the 44-year-old had posted on Facebook: “The days of the UDA putting people out of Carrick are over.”
Eyewitnesses say an unmasked gunman walked up to Gilmore’s car and fired several shots though the window shortly after 2pm.
Police wearing protective masks later carried out raids on properties in the area.
The victim’s son, Geordie Gilmore jnr, posted on Facebook: “We’ll see who looks over there (sic) shoulders for the rest of their days.”
In July last year there was a tense stand-off between rival loyalists at the home of Gilmore snr, with video footage posted online.
It showed a mob of around 100 men, some of them masked, marching towards the house in the Glenfield estate.
Gilmore moved there in 2013 after his luxury property at Sullatober Square in Carrickfergus was sold when he was convicted of mortgage fraud.
Loyalist sources have cited a fall-out between a number of women, including the girlfriend of a senior UDA man, as sparking the trouble last summer.
Since then there have been several shootings and dozens have people received death threats.
Several men have also appeared in court on weapons charges.
Last year Gilmore was arrested and questioned in connection with the disappearance of Carrickfergus man Mark Gourley.
Mr Gourley, who was described as a “vulnerable individual”, was believed to have been murdered over an unpaid debt.
The victim, from the Castlemara estate in Carrickfergus, was reported missing in March 2009 and his remains have never been found.
District Commander Superintendent Darrin Jones said on Tuesday morning that involvement of paramilitary criminals was one possibility.
“In the hours after the shooting local police, supported by members of the PSNI’s Armed Response Units and colleagues from Air Support Unit, carried out a number of searches across Carrickfergus and maintained a robust presence in the area throughout the night. This very visible police operation will continue as we continue to gather evidence and investigate this brutal crime.
“It is just unacceptable that someone would produce a weapon and open fire in any circumstances however it is particularly chilling that this attack, this murder bid, took place in broad daylight, in a residential street populated with families, young children and older people. That is simply shocking in a civilised society.
“I am renewing my appeal to local people to assist us with our enquiries and to help us identify the person or persons who orchestrated and carried out this ruthless attack. We want to apprehend them and place them before the courts to answer for their crimes, and we can only do that with your help and support.
“While a definitive motive for the shooting has not been established and we are exploring a number of possible lines of enquiry, I can say that at this time the involvement of paramilitary criminals is one possibility. Obviously as the investigation is at a very early stage I cannot expand further upon that at present.”
Alliance East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson condemned the attack.
“This is an appalling act, particularly as it was carried out in broad daylight in a residential area,” he said.
“Guns have no place on our streets and despicable actions of this nature have absolutely no place in our society. Those behind this incident do not speak for the community and I appeal for calm following it.
“If anyone has information on this incident, I would ask they pass it to police immediately.”
Detectives investigating the shooting appealed to anyone with information to contact them on 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.