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Jailed: Man who helped IRA gang after murder of policeman 22 years ago

By Ashleigh McDonald

Published 22/12/2015

Christopher O’Kane at an earlier court appearance
Christopher O’Kane at an earlier court appearance

A Londonderry man who walked into a police station and confessed to a string of IRA-related offences in the 1990s has been handed a 10-year prison sentence.

Christopher Paul O'Kane - who admitted playing a role in several attacks against the security forces as well as assisting offenders in the aftermath of a 21-year-old policeman's murder - appeared in the dock of Belfast Crown Court.

Due to his sentencing falling within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, coupled with time he has already served on remand, it is expected O'Kane, from Woodland Avenue in Derry, will be released around May 2016.

During yesterday's sentencing, Judge Gordon Kerr QC said that while he accepted O'Kane's role was not one of a bomb-maker or a planter of bombs, at the time of offending he was "acting as a member of a terrorist group".

Judge Kerr also pointed out that had the 42-year-old not confessed to his involvement in terrorist offences in Londonderry between 1991 and 1996, he would never have been prosecuted.

The court heard that in one of the five offences he pleaded guilty to, O'Kane drove a boat taken from Foyle Search and Rescue - a service which his parents helped establish - and a bomb on board the boat was then placed on the jetty at the Fort George Army base.

Two soldiers were injured when the bomb exploded in the May 1994 attack - one of whom is now registered blind as a result.

Prior to yesterday's sentencing, Judge Kerr was told that in May 2008, O'Kane walked into Strand Road police station and said he wished to confess to his involvement in various terrorist-related offences in the '90s.

O'Kane, whose mental health began to deteriorate in 2007, was interviewed and released later that day. Police obtained O'Kane's mental health records and discovered he had been a patient at Gransha Hospital.

Crown prosecutor Robin Steer revealed that O'Kane was interviewed again in September 2008 but didn't answer any questions.

Mr Steer said that after a report was submitted to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in 2009, a year later a direction of 'no prosecution' was made.

However, in September 2012, O'Kane contacted police again and stated he wished to be re-interviewed and again confessed to a series of IRA-related incidents.

The prosecutor said that on this occasion O'Kane "expressed remorse ... and a desire to admit the offences". The Derry man also told police a TV programme which featured the mother of a murder victim had contributed to him coming forward.

O'Kane subsequently pleaded guilty to five terrorist offences and was handed a 10-year sentence.

He admitted assisting offenders in respect of the January 1993 murder of 21-year old catholic policeman Michael Ferguson, who was shot in the head as he stood outside the city's Dunnes stores.

O'Kane said he saw the gunman run down the street after the shooting, during which he touched a car with an ungloved hand. He said his OC ordered him to tell the driver to wash his car to destroy forensic evidence.

O'Kane also admitted two separate charges of doing an act with intent to cause an explosion likely to endanger life or cause serious damage.

In the first incident in October 1993, O'Kane admitted being part of an IRA unit that attacked a police patrol in the Fanad Drive area of Derry, although no-one was injured. O'Kane also admitted placing a bomb on the windowsill of an Assistant Chief Constable who lived in Prehen in February 1994. The detonator exploded but the main charge failed to go off, and no-one was injured.

In addition, O'Kane admitted causing an explosion with intent to endanger life, and this charge was in relation to a trip wire bomb which was placed in a fence where the army were known to access the railway line from Ebrington Barracks in December 1993. The device exploded and injured two soldiers, one of whom suffered perforated eardrums.

The court heard that prior to 2007 O'Kane had a good working record which included a senior position as an IT manager. However, in 2007 his marriage broke down and his mental health deteriorated.

Defence barrister Mark Mulholland QC pointed out "this offending would never have come before the court had he not made full admissions".

Saying the remorse his client felt was genuine, Mr Mulholland said O'Kane "cut any links with the Provisional IRA" years ago.

Sentencing O'Kane, Judge Kerr acknowledged O'Kane's remorse but branded the offences as "terrorist in nature" and noted the "serious and permanent injuries" caused to the targets.

After he was handed a 10-year sentence, O'Kane was remanded back into custody.

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