Loyalist deputy mayor agrees to court appearance after arrest warrant issued
A deputy mayor and leading loyalist has agreed to appear before a Belfast murder trial after a judge threatened to have him arrested.
Belfast Crown Court judge Mr Justice McLaughlin issued a warrant for the arrest of the independent Newtownabbey Borough deputy mayor Tommy Kirkham after he refused to answer a witness summons.
However, the warrant won’t now be executed by police after he is said to have agreed to appear in court today.
Defence lawyers in the trial of convicted loyalist killer Robert James Clarke, who denies the 1973 murder of north Belfast Catholic chip shop owner Alfredo Fusco, want to question the deputy mayor as a witness to the shooting.
Defence QC Frank O'Donoghue said he wanted to “examine him about the identity of the gunman”, and several other matters.
However, while it has been indicated that the deputy mayor is prepared to come to court, it is still unclear what evidence, if any, he will give to the trial.
The court heard that earlier this week, while refusing to come to court, he told police that the only thing he had to say was “the conflict is over and I will tell the judge that”.
The judge said while he was prepared to issue an arrest warrant, it should be made clear to the deputy mayor that as a public representative he had a greater responsibility to come to court.
Mr Justice McLaughlin said he “just wanted to emphasise” the complete and utter waste of not only public money and police time, but of court time his non-attendance had caused.
The man accused of the murder 37 years ago, 58-year-old Clarke from Dundrod Road, Nutts Corner, claims he could not have been the trigger man as he is unable to fire a gun, having lost two fingers in an industrial accident.
However, his trial has already heard that despite his claims Clarke was convicted of the sectarian drive-by shooting of 58-year-old New Lodge Road woman Margaret O'Neill in 1975.
Clarke was arrested in August last year for Mr Fusco's murder after a review of the case by the PSNI’s Historical Enquiry Team was able to identify Clarke’s prints found on a door through which Mr Fusco was shot.
He claimed that at the time of the shooting he had worked as a door hanger, although he accepted he had not worked in the north Belfast or York Road area.
The court also heard that while Clarke could not explain how his prints got on the door, he maintained “he had not shot Mr Fusco”.