A BELFAST court was told yesterday that the murder of a Glaswegian taxi driver working in County Armagh during the Drumcree crisis in 1996 was a ''birthday present'' for Billy Wright, the then loyalist leader.

Nick Martin-Clark, a former freelance journalist, told Belfast Crown Court that he had frozen when a loyalist described how he had killed Michael McGoldrick, a Catholic living in Lurgan.

Giving evidence in the trial of Clifford McKeown, Mr Martin-Clark said that, after he asked him who murdered Mr McGoldrick, Mr McKeown replied: ''You are looking at him.''

The witness added: ''I didn't write the words down because the intensity of the moment was such, my pen was suspended.''

Mr McGoldrick, a 37-year-old father of two, was lured to an isolated road in July 7, 1996 and shot five times at close range.

Mr Martin-Clark said Mr McKeown - who denies murder - had told him he had carried out the killing, adding that it was a birthday present for Wright.

Mr Martin-Clark said Mr McKeown told him that he had met Wright and his associate Mark ''Swinger'' Fulton on the night before the murder to discuss Wright's plan to kidnap and murder three Roman Catholic priests.

''They were going to leave one priest behind to tell everybody what had happened, but then apparently Billy Wright got cold feet. He thought that the IRA would kidnap Protestant churchmen in retaliation.''

The following day, Mr Mc

Keown said, they decided to use the same team brought together for the kidnapping plot, to kill a Catholic taxi driver.

Mr Martin-Clark met Mr McKeown, 43, from Parkmore, in Craigavon, five times at Maghaberry Prison, County Antrim, in the summer of 1999.

He told the court that he was later paid (pounds) 7500 for an article in The Sunday Times but said Mr McKeown had not been offered any money for his story.

He then made a statement to police, who sought an order forcing him to hand over his notebooks.

The court heard that Mr McKeown told him that Wright had planned to have two people killed on the night of the taxi driver's death.

Mr Martin-Clark, an ME sufferer, spoke haltingly as he described the account allegedly given by Mr McKeown.

Mr McKeown allegedly told him that Tony McNeill, one of three accomplices, had phoned for a taxi to pick up a fare in Lurgan, using a Catholic name and stating the destination as a public house in Aghagallon a few miles from the town.

Mr McNeill allegedly then called a public phone box in nearby Aghalee to let Mr Mc

Keown know the taxi was on its way.

According to Mr Martin-Clark, the passenger - one of two unnamed youths who allegedly aided the murder - asked Mr McGoldrick to stop to pick up his friend.

Mr McKeown allegedly followed with his lights switched off.

One of the passengers then asked Mr McGoldrick to stop at the roadside to let him urinate.

As the youth got out of the front passenger seat, Mr Mc

Keown allegedly slipped into the back of the taxi, shooting Mr McGoldrick four times in the back of the head.

''Then he said he shot a fifth time, a last shot into the back of his neck.

''I asked him why and he said: 'It was to finish the job','' added the former journalist.

The trial continues.