Widow's disgust at 14-year jail sentence for teenage killer of policeman Stephen Carroll
The disgusted widow of murdered policeman Stephen Carroll has said the 14-year minimum sentence handed down to one of her husband’s killers would not have been so lenient had the crime happened in England.
Kate Carroll said the punishment given to John Paul Wootton, who was just 17 years old at the time of the murder, would not act as a deterrent to young people being recruited by paramilitaries.
Hitting out at Wootton’s sentence, the 63-year-old widow said: “It gives out the message that it is fine to kill a policeman here because you get a small rap on the knuckles, whereas in England you get the full term.”
Wootton’s co-accused, former Sinn Fein councillor Brendan McConville (41), was told he would have to serve at least 25 years before being considered for parole. In England a possible minimum sentence of 30 years can be handed to those who kill policemen.
Speaking outside Belfast Crown Court on Monday, Mrs Carroll vented her anger on the younger murderer’s sentence. “I am actually disgusted,” she said. “The full intent was there. He (Wootton) has shown no remorse or anything else. But it is not up to me to say.
“I think he (Wootton) would have needed a stiffer sentence to deter young people. It is the younger people who are now coming up the ranks and it needs to be stamped out from that point of view. We will be looking into ways of seeing what we can do.”
Constable Carroll’s distraught mother Margaret, who travelled from England for the hearing, wiped away tears as she, too, expressed dismay at Wootton’s sentence. “We are so disappointed about the young guy getting 14 years,” she said.
“He should have got more. It’s not fair. Life will never be the same without our Steve.”
Throughout their nine-week trial, Wootton, from Collindale in Lurgan, and McConville, of Glenholme Avenue in Craigavon, both denied involvement in the murder.
On Monday the court heard how the pair had refused to co-operate with the authorities, including probation officers preparing pre-sentence reports — a move which the judge interpreted as confirming they have “no remorse”
Lord Justice Girvan said he had carefully considered “moving victim impact statements” from Constable Carroll’s relatives and claimed their testimonials highlighted “the dreadful and traumatic loss to the family by such cold-hearted and callous acts of terrorist murder”.
“No person with any remaining sense of humanity or compassion could fail to be moved by seeing and reading of the devastation visited on the families of those who have lost loved ones because self-appointed executioners decided that they are entitled to sacrifice a human being to further terrorist or political programmes,” said the judge.
Lord Girvan added that their actions had been “decisively rejected by all right-thinking members of society”.
McConville and Wootton appeared in the dock sporting long hair and bushy beards. They gave little reaction as the jail terms were handed down. Telling McConville he would have to serve a minimum of 25 years with “no question of remission”, Judge Girvan said while he may not have been the trigger man, he was an “active participant”.
Turning to Wootton, the judge concluded he had a “knowing and willing” involvement in taking at least one person away from the scene of the shooting.
Wootton had made the cold-hearted comment that “a cop is a cop”. As he was led from the dock he gave a thumbs-up to supporters in the public gallery and smiled.
Wootton’s mother Sharon (39), who had admitted obstructing the police investigation by removing computers from their home, had her 12-month sentence suspended for three years.
Constable Stephen Carroll (48), from Banbridge, Co Down, was the first member of the PSNI to be murdered. He died of a single gunshot wound to the head as he sat in an unmarked police car while colleagues attended a 999 call in the Lismore Manor area in Craigavon on March 9, 2009 — two days after two soldiers were gunned down outside Massereene Army base in Antrim.
Steve was my life and losing him was utterly devastating
They were married for 24 years and Kate and Constable Stephen Carroll were still besotted and blissfully happy.
The couple had been looking forward to celebrating their silver wedding anniversary by renewing their vows at Ashford Castle.
When that dreaded knock came at the door on March 9, 2009, the news of her husband’s murder was a devastating blow to Kate Carroll that shattered her life and stole her future.
And at Belfast Crown Court on Monday, the full impact of the widow’s trauma, heartache and unbearable sense of loss was laid bare. “I feel that I have not only lost my soulmate and best friend, my future has been taken away from me but I did not even get a chance to say goodbye properly,” she said in an impact statement.
“Steve was my life, my religion and losing him was gut wrenching, heartbreaking and utterly devastating.”
Constable Carroll (48) was shot dead by the Continuity IRA after police were lured into a trap in the Lismore Manor estate in Craigavon. He was the first PSNI officer to be murdered and his killing came just days after dissident republicans gunned down two soldiers outside Massereene Army barracks.
Throughout Monday’s hearing Mrs Carroll, a devoted wife, mother and grandmother, maintained a dignified stance in the front row of the public gallery. She listened as the legal teams and then the judge made their remarks, occasionally sharing a comment with the uniformed police officer and her adult son, Shane, sitting either side of her.
When the 25-year jail term was handed out to former Sinn Fein councillor Brendan McConville (41) she seemed relieved. She closed her eyes, tilted her head back and inhaled deeply. She was clearly trying to stifle emotion.
Moments later, however, the agony returned as John Paul Wootton (21) was given a 14-year sentence. Mrs Carroll appeared surprised, her expression changed and she jolted to her right and glared at the young dissident republican’s supporters, seated just yards away.
Outside the court, Mrs Carroll revealed she had been outraged after overhearing a quip about “justice being served”.
“Their sentence begins but ours will never end,” she said. “Once John Paul Wootton had been given 14 years they were saying on the other side ‘justice has been done’. Not for us it hasn’t. Steve is still in a grave, he is dead. It has destroyed us all as a family. We will never be the same again. Life will never be the same again. We have tried to hold it together as best we can because that’s how we are. But it is devastating, totally, totally devastating.
“When I heard that ‘justice had been done’ from the other quarter it was that which upset me because I thought that is disgusting to say that justice has been done for killing a person.
“I said to Shane if that had been him sat there he would have got a smack, I would not have been smiling at him.”