Belfast Telegraph

Constable Stephen Carroll killing: Dissident republicans fail to have murder convictions overturned

By Alan Erwin

Two dissident republicans jailed for murdering Constable Stephen Carroll failed today in attempts to have their convictions overturned.

Judges in the Court of Appeal rejected all grounds of challenge advanced by Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said the surrounding circumstances formed a "compelling case" for each man's guilt.

Constable Carroll was the first member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to be murdered.

He was ambushed and shot dead by the Continuity IRA as he responded to a 999 call at Lismore Manor, Craigavon in March 2009. 

McConville, 43, of Glenholme Avenue in the town, is serving at least a 25-year-sentence for the murder.

Wootton, 23, from Lurgan, received a minimum 14-year term.

Both men were also convicted of possession of an AK47 assault rifle and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

Wootton was further found guilty of attempting to collect information likely to be of use to terrorists.

A circumstantial case against them at the non-jury trial involved DNA and other evidence.

Prosecutors contended that Wootton's car was near the scene of the attack and driven off within minutes of the killing. However, his legal team insisted absolutely no evidence exists to link him to any role in the shooting.

Gun residue was found on a coat linked to McConville which was later recovered from the vehicle.

Central to the prosecution case was the evidence of a man identified only as Witness M who claimed to have seen McConville in the area around the time of the killing.

But this man's father, referred to as Z, testified to the Court of Appeal that his son is a liar and Walter Mitty-type character who couldn't have been there.

Defence lawyers advanced a number of grounds of challenge to the safety of the convictions, including: the prosecution reliance on Witness M; the treatment of gunshot residue evidence;  a forensic link to the coat; and a tracking device having been attached to Wootton's car.

It was further claimed that police subverted and manipulated the appeal proceedings by arresting Z after he supplied an affidavit accusing his son of dishonesty.

But Sir Declan, sitting with Lord Justices Higgins and Coghlin, rejected claims that an abuse of process had occurred.

"We consider Z an unreliable witness and his evidence did not render the conviction unsafe in any way," he said.

No errors were identified in either allowing M's evidence or admitting details of the tracking device to feature in the trial.

Judges further held there was nothing controversial about how the gun particles on the jacket in the car boot were dealt with.

Sir Declan went on to state that the trial judge was entitled to draw an adverse inference from the McConville and Wootton's failure to give evidence.

He said: "It was not necessary for him to determine the role that each of the appellants played.

"This attack was clearly an operation which required considerable logistic support. There were a number of others involved apart from those who were directly involved in firing the weapons."

Dismissing the appeals, he added: "The surrounding circumstances in our view formed a compelling case that each of these appellants was guilty of the offences with which they were charged."

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