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Man awaiting sentence for possessing gun used to murder Lyra McKee is denied compassionate bail to visit newborn


Niall Sheerin

Niall Sheerin

Niall Sheerin

A judge has refused a request to allow a Londonderry man to visit his family ahead of being sentenced for possessing the gun used to murder journalist Lyra McKee.

The unsuccessful application to release Niall Sheerin on “compassionate bail” to allow him to visit his newborn son was heard at Belfast Crown Court today.

The 29-year old, from Tyrconnell Street, has been on remand since May and is awaiting sentence on a charge of storing the weapon used to murder Ms McKee (29), who was killed whilst observing rioting in the Creggan area of the city in April 2018.

Sheerin admitted a charge of possessing a .22 calibre Hammerli self-loading pistol, magazine and a quantity of .22 calibre cartridges with intent to enable another person to endanger life or cause serious damage to property on dates between September 22, 2018, and June 6, 2020.

The defendant's barrister, Kieran Mallon QC, said this plea was on the grounds that he “warehoused the weapon for a short period” but was unaware of its history.

That history, Mr Mallon said, was that the gun in question was used by the New IRA to murder Ms McKee.

The barrister stressed Sheerin’s plea was to "second-limb possession” and it was not the Crown’s case in any way that Sheerin was present in Fanad Drive on the evening of the murder.

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Urging Judge Roseanne McCormick to grant bail for a few days so Sheerin could return home and visit his partner and three children, including their newborn son, Mr Mallon said the visit would also allow Sheerin to support his family.

Reminding the judge that Sheerin had been "bail compliant” for a number of years, Mr Mallon said that despite the sentence hearing initially being listed for June, for various reasons it has not yet taken place.

When Judge McCormick asked what the Crown’s view was, prosecuting barrister Robin Steer said the application was opposed.

Mr Steer said it was accepted the plea was to second-limb possession and there was no suggestion or evidence Sheerin was involved in Ms McKee’s murder.

Pointing out that Sheerin had admitted his guilt and was awaiting a “significant sentence”, Mr Steer said: “This is a very serious offence of possession of a firearm with intent.

“It was a .22 pistol together with eight suitable cartridges. The pistol was a viable weapon. It was test-fired. It was found on June 5, 2020, and this applicant’s DNA was recovered from the swabs of the gun.

“The weapon has been used in four paramilitary shootings between September 2018 and March 2019, and in the murder of Lyra McKee on April 18, 2019.”

Mr Steer added that whilst it’s accepted Sheerin wasn’t aware the gun had been used to murder Ms McKee, he would have been aware of New IRA activity in Derry at the time and of its involvement in the murder.

Addressing the reasons why the application was made, Mr Steer said that whilst it may appear “hard-hearted” to oppose one made on family grounds, the rights of the public and society also needed to be met.

Judge McCormick thanked both barristers for their submissions and said that due to her “considerable experience” in family courts, she was sympathetic to the pressures faced by parents.

She continued: “However, it is not appropriate to admit Mr Sheerin to bail in circumstances where he faces, now imminently, a very significant custodial sentence.”

Saying she has “listened carefully” to defence submissions regarding Sheerin’s lack of knowledge regarding the gun’s history — and in particular its use in Ms McKee’s murder — the judge added: “Nonetheless… this is a very significant weapon.”

Judge McCormick refused the application and Sheerin was remanded back into custody ahead of sentencing, which is scheduled to take place on September 2, 2022.

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