CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

18 years on, the question is the same: Who killed Thomas Breen?

Detectives need someone reading this to help them make a breakthrough

14 August, 2020 — By Richard Osley

Thomas Breen was stabbed on August 10, 2002

CAMDEN High Street is always bustling with people deep into the evening, its pavement covered from north to south by CCTV, so it is still hard to think how a killer stabbed a man to death in such a place  and then left the scene without being detected.

But 18 years on, they are still out there, walking free: the man who killed Thomas Breen.

This was a mindless murder, always described by detectives an unprovoked.

Mr Breen, 50, had come to London for building work from Downpatrick in Northern Ireland.

He had been enjoying a night out when on August 10 2002 – Monday was the anniversary – he was stabbed at the crossroads junction with Jamestown Road and Hawley Road. He was rushed to hospital but died from a wound to the chest.

Every attempt to bring his killer to justice has drawn a blank.

The “who?” may not be a complete mystery. There have been hints over the near two decades that police felt they knew who was responsible but could not mount a case.

Each appeal urged those in the know not to remain loyal to a killer who had left a loving family so devastated. Everything has conspired against Mr Breen’s wife and two sons, however.

Those CCTV cameras were facing in the wrong direction, and nobody passing could give an accurate description.

Mr Breen’s friend, understandably traumatised, underwent hypnosis to try and recall what had happened.

Politicians have been involved, asking for the case to be looked at again.

At one stage, as bizarre as it sounds, there was the added pain of suggestions that the culprit had tormented police by trying to claim the £20,000 reward on offer himself with twisted tips of information.

On February 9, 2008, I flew to Northern Ireland and spent the day with the Breen family. The date sticks in the mind because when the return flight touched down, I had to rush to cover the Camden market fire that evening.

Earlier in the day, sitting around the kitchen table and driving through the breathtaking, and much calmer, countryside of County Down, you could not have a better picture of how the flash of a knife on London’s streets can in an instant wreck lives forever.

The Breen family in Downpatrick

His relatives had never been to Camden Town; the noise and hedonism were from a different world to these rolling green landscapes.

And the memories of Mr Breen were all around. A candle has always flickered at his grave.

“He was my man and I loved him with all my heart. I will never leave him,” his wife Lorraine said. “I’ve made that promise and I will keep that candle burning.”

She added: “People say that even if they are never caught, they will have to face being judged by God, but that is not enough for me. They need to face a court in this world, in this life.”

The New Journal said on that day it would print an appeal every year.

Firstly, because Mr Breen is not just a face on a leaflet or a half-remembered news story; his family deserve more.

And secondly because in cold terms, all of these years later, there isn’t a detective going into work every day with the sole task of trying to resolve this case.

Cold cases are reviewed periodically, but the police need an unexpected breakthrough here, they need someone reading this to step forward and break the silence.

Maybe some new forensic techniques will help. Maybe it will be like one of those stories that you read about how a crime has been solved decades later.

Maybe the police are right, and loyalties will have changed. Mr Breen’s son, Stephen, a well-respected journalist, has made the point many times that if somebody gets away with murder once, the danger remains that they would not hesitate to do it again.

As time goes on, there is, of course, the chance that Mr Breen’s killer himself is no longer alive.

That uncertainty, the not knowing, is all part of the torture.

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