Belfast Telegraph

Gun murder bid was a prank, court told

A former Irish soldier and another man accused of trying to murder a rookie police officer have told a court the alleged attack was a "prank".

The pair - ex-soldier Gerard James McManus and Kevin Barry Nolan - deny trying to kill the officer in Garrison, Co Fermanagh, claiming they only meant to scare him.

They told Enniskillen magistrates that they had been put up to "the prank" by a police agent.

Nolan (35), of Main Street, Blacklion, and McManus (28), from Fernhill, Letterkenny, were detained by undercover police during a shooting incident in the town on November 21, 2009.

They are charged with attempting to murder the student officer and having a gun with intent to endanger life. McManus is further charged with using a gun to resist arrest.

Both appeared in court heavily bearded, although they had both been clean-shaven at a previous hearing.

Their preliminary hearing was expected to last until Friday - but only one witness, a policeman, gave evidence, before the hearing became embroiled in legal argument over what questions defence lawyers could ask.

Barrister Mark Reel, for Nolan, told the court he no longer required any other witnesses to give evidence in the case, a position "adopted" by solicitor Peter Corrigan, for McManus.

Mr Reel told District Judge Mervyn Bates that given his ruling the defence were prevented from probing the nature of the operation that led to the arrest of the accused.

The defence, he added, could not therefore ask any witness "to address the issue of entrapment".

Prosecutor David Russell successfully applied for the men to be returned for trial on the grounds that the evidence of other witnesses amounted to a prima facie case against them.

The District Judge remanded both men back into custody, returned them for trial to Belfast Crown Court, on a date to be fixed. At an earlier hearing the court heard that McManus and Nolan were allegedly spotted in a Vauxhall Astra approaching the student officer's home.

It was alleged McManus, wearing a balaclava, went to the front door, while Nolan remained in the front passenger seat before police moved in.

The court heard that McManus escaped, firing off a shot, but that Nolan was apprehended in the Astra, sitting on a magazine for a pistol.

McManus was apprehended at 8am the following day in a garden shed.

During interview both men maintained they had no intention of harming the student police officer. McManus told detectives that he was going to fire into the air, "to scare him, wanted to terrify him, like".

Lawyers for the men told the court at the earlier hearing that their clients were "cajoled" into getting involved by a person known to authorities.

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