| 6.1°C Belfast

Coronavirus fears force judge to abort Lu Na McKinney murder trial in Northern Ireland

Close

Lu Na McKinney's husband, Stephen McKinney is accused of her murder

Lu Na McKinney's husband, Stephen McKinney is accused of her murder

Lu Na McKinney's husband, Stephen McKinney is accused of her murder

In first case of its kind, the trial of 43-year-old father of two Stephen McKinney accused of murdering his wife during a boating holiday on Fermanagh's Lower Lough Erne nearly three years ago, has had to be aborted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday morning, trial judge, Madam Justice McBride, who described the situations as "an unprecedented emergency", said that "social distancing clearly has serious implications in this trial".

Her ladyship added that two members of the Dungannon Crown Court jury of seven men and five women had already been in touch with the court to say that they are considered medically to be "in the vulnerable group".

Madam Justice McBridge said given that the trial had sometime to go, and in light of government recommendations, and in consultation with the Lord Chief Justice: "I consider this trial cannot realistically proceed and I am going to discharge this jury".

The jury, who had been told not to attend court on Wednesday, had been expect to hear evidence from more witnesses in the trial, which was expected to last at least several more weeks.

Close

Lu Na McKinney

Lu Na McKinney

Lu Na McKinney

The trial, with a new jury will proceed in the future, but as yet when that will be is uncertain at this time.

McKinney, originally from Strabane, but who lived with his 35-year-old wife Lu Na and children in Flaxfield, Convoy Co Donegal, now has an address in Castletown Square, Fintona, Co Tyrone, was released on continuing bail.

The dismissal of the jury comes in the wake of statements on the running of the courts in light of the pandemic from both the Office of the Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan, and from the Northern Ireland Bar Association, representing lawyers and QCs.

The LCJ has already announced the suspension of any new criminal jury trials from March 18 until further notice. It was also reported that the Chief Justice had also advised Crown Court judges on what to do if a serving juror indicates they are experiencing possible symptoms of Covid-19.

In the statement issued on behalf of CBA chairman Gavin Duffy QC, it said "no members should attend Court for the next two weeks (March 18 - April 1) unless the case qualified as an emergency .... An ongoing trial (subject to the review by the court)".

Close

Devenish Island, where Lu Na McKinney died

Devenish Island, where Lu Na McKinney died

� Ronan McGrade Photography 078

Devenish Island, where Lu Na McKinney died

During his three week trial, Mr McKinney, at one stage seen weeping while recordings of his 999 calls for help were played, was described as a "controlling husband, tired of his wife, but unwilling to accept the possibility of her divorcing him" and how he put her off the end of the cruiser hired to celebrate their up and coming 14th wedding anniversary.

The jury were also told that when they had heard all of the evidence they would find "this was no tragic accident and you will be sure Srtephen McKinney killed his wife".

And that Mrs McKinney was "incapacitated" by the sleeping drug Zopiclone, obtained online by her husband Stephen, who had "caused her to enter the water" while their children slept.

Her body was recovered from the lough close to their cruiser moored by the western shore Devenish Island, within 40 minutes of her husband raising the alarm in the early hours of April 13, 2017.

McKinney denies the murder charge.

Belfast Telegraph