Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde today made an emotional but defiant appeal for help in catching the “criminal psychopaths” responsible for the first terrorist murder of a PSNI officer.
The police chief vowed that his force would not be intimidated by the threat from dissident republicans, who gunned down a police officer as he went to assist a member of the public in Craigavon last night.
The policeman was today named as Stephen Carroll from Banbridge, who was married. His wife Kathleen was told at 11pm yesterday of her husband’s murder. She was said to be devastated. It is understood Mr Carroll was due to retire next year.
During a highly-charged post-midnight press conference, Sir Hugh was visibly shaken as he spoke of his sadness over the first murder of a PSNI officer since it was formed in 2001.
While clearly emotional, the Chief Constable also had words of anger and determination for the killers as he appealed to the public for help in catching them.
The PSNI chief said it was shortly before 10pm yesterday when officers in Craigavon going about their duty answered a call for help from a “ terrified” member of the public in the Lismore Manor area of Craigavon. The woman’s home was believed to have been under attack.
Two police vehicles went to the scene and as officers got out, they were shot at. The shocking attack came just 48 hours after a similar shooting in Antrim which saw two young soldiers killed by the Real IRA as they collected a take-away delivery at the gates of the Massereene Army Barracks.
Sappers Mark Quinsey (23), from Birmingham, and Patrick Azimkar (21), from London, were killed in the attack.
Sir Hugh said the violence “has got to stop and I have a direct appeal to the community to help us to do so”.
He began by paying tribute to the officer “who paid the ultimate price when cowards and criminals gunned him down”.
“I send my deepest sympathy to his family. We need people with information to come forward. My police officers from within your community who have opted to protect and serve you. They are your neighbours. Every day and night they respond to reports of burglary, domestic abuse, missing persons, vehicle theft, rape the list goes on. Last night in Craigavon it was a call to a broken window. Such is the desire within my organisation to win the support of all within the community my officers responded knowing the threat to their lives was a very real possibility.”
Sir Hugh said his officers’ commitment was met “with the very worst in human nature”.
“This morning the PSNI has lost an officer. But I say to you — the people living on this island — you have lost a member of your community. This was an attack on the community.
“There are people in the community who have information that will help us catch those responsible. Maybe you have not spoken to police before. Maybe, for whatever reason, you are suspicious or fearful of what speaking to us will mean. I say to you in the most honest and open terms — my officers opted to protect lives, in this, your community — by bringing information to us you can do the same. I ask you to have the courage and confidence to come forward. Let us stand together for the future.”
The loss of three members of the security forces in the past two days has served as a grim reminder of Northern Ireland’s troubled past. Sir Hugh pleaded for a stop to the “pointless loss of life”.
“Children today do not remember the horrors of the past. Let us not repeat that pointless loss of life with them. If anyone has any information — no matter how small — please bring it to my officers and help us stop the horror of the last few days,” he added.
A defiant chief constable said the PSNI would not be intimidated from its duty to the public.
“My officers will not be intimidated in this way. We will not step back. We will continue to deliver that service regardless of the threat, yet mindful of it,” he said.
“On this occasion the officers were fully aware of the threats they were facing, they did not stand back. They knew a person needed help. Mindful of that threat they responded in an entirely appropriate way. Sadly one officer paid with his life protecting the community.”
Sir Hugh described those behind the attack as “criminal psychopaths” who had nothing to offer Northern Ireland. He also joined promises that the province would not be dragged back to the past.
“These people are determined to bring Northern Ireland back to a place that we won’t allow it to go to,” he said.
“My officers are supported by the overwhelming majority of the community and we will continue to do our job.
“A small group of people who are determined to wreck political progress are becoming more dangerous. This is a small number of people who we know could be dangerous with a small number of weapons.”
He also said morale would not be “put back” amongst his officers. He said: “I am immensely proud of every officer who is out there this evening.”
Mr Carroll’s death is the first murder of a police officer in Northern Ireland since 1998. Constable Frank O'Reilly was killed by a loyalist blast bomb during disturbances linked to the Drumcree dispute in 1998.
The last police officers murdered by republicans, RUC constables Roland John Graham and David Andrew Johnston, were shot dead by the IRA in Lurgan, County Armagh in June 1997.