Police have made an apparent attempt to sabotage appeals by two men convicted of murdering PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll, a court has heard.
A new witness in the case of John Paul Wootton and Brendan McConville was arrested last week and held for two days before being released without charge in a bid to pressure him into withdrawing his evidence, it was claimed.
Senior judges were told officers forced their way into his home and warned him he would be discredited if he went to court.
As a planned five-day hearing of the appeal by the pair found guilty of the killing was adjourned until October due to uncertainty over the potential fresh evidence, defence lawyers confirmed they are to lodge a complaint with the Police Ombudsman.
Constable Carroll was ambushed and shot dead as he responded to a 999 call at Lismore Manor, Craigavon, in March 2009.
McConville (41), of Glenholme Avenue in the town, is serving a 25-year sentence for the murder. Wootton (22), of Collindale, Lurgan, received a minimum 14-year term.
Dressed in dark suits and wearing shirts and ties, both men were led handcuffed into a packed Court of Appeal for the planned opening of their challenge.
Family, friends and supporters, including Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham Six, gathered in the public gallery, a few feet from the murdered officer's widow, Kate Carroll.
They heard prosecution counsel Ciaran Murphy QC seek an adjournment due to the new developments. He revealed that an arrest was made last week as part of a surveillance operation. “There are a number of lines of inquiry that are not yet complete,” he said.
Two files of new material have emerged, including the contents of 11 interviews. Mr Murphy indicated that ongoing police inquiries could take several weeks.
McConville's barrister, Barry Macdonald QC, said the prosecution case was entirely based on circumstantial evidence, primarily from a man identified as ‘Witness M’, who claimed he saw his client in the area at the time of the killing.
Earlier this month a relative of Witness M, who did not testify at the trial, swore an affidavit branding him a compulsive liar, the court heard.
“(It said) that he was known in the family as a ‘Walter Mitty’, that he made up stories, that he had a fertile imagination and you could not believe anything he said,” Mr Macdonald disclosed.
According to the relative, Witness M could not have taken the route he claimed on the night of the murder because his partner was not welcome in his home.
Mr Macdonald told the court: “Then last Monday two police officers called at the house of this witness on whose fresh evidence we rely.
“On my instructions, it appears they forced their way into the house and proceeded to warn him
that if he went to court he would be discredited.”
The three appeal judges, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and Lord Justices Higgins and Coghlin, were informed that letters of complaint are also to be sent to the Public Prosecution Service and the Law Society amid concerns that covert surveillance may have been used against either the witness, his solicitor, or both.
Mr Macdonald described the application to adjourn the hearing as “suspicious to say the least”.
He claimed: “If my instructions are correct, this appears to have been an attempt to sabotage this appeal.”
</>\[Tim Webb\]He said: “It seems to us there is such a high level of uncertainty as to the factual circumstances surrounding the position that we are faced with having no alternative but to adjourn this appeal.”
Constable Stephen Carroll became the first PSNI officer to be murdered when he was shot dead in March 2009. The 48-year-old was nearing the end of a 12-hour shift when he was sent to a call-out in Lismore Manor in Craigavon, where a dissident republican gunman was lying in wait. The Banbridge father had 24 years service under his belt, in both the RUC and the PSNI. He would have been eligible for retirement the following year and was retraining for a new career as a personal trainer. The officer’s widow, Kate, recently set up The Steve Carroll Foundation.