Three men have been sentenced at Belfast Crown Court today for their role in destroying the getaway vehicle linked to the murder of UDA chief John Boreland in north Belfast.
Mr Boreland (46) was shot dead outside his Sunningdale Gardens home in the Ballysillan area of north Belfast by a lone gunman on the evening of Sunday August 7, 2016.
As he sentenced three men who helped destroy the silver Renault Megande used to transport the gunman to and from the murder scene, Judge David McFarland described the murder as a "cold-blooded assassination carried out in broad daylight on a Belfast street."
The Belfast Crown Court judge also spoke of the impact Mr Boreland's murder has had on his family and friends, and said no-one has been tried for his murder.
The three men jailed for perverting the course of justice by destroying the Megane are Darren George Thomas John McAllister (35) from Carrs Glen Park in Belfast, 31-year old Thomas O'Hara with an address known to police in Kilburney in Scotland, and 63-year old Thomas Pearson, from Rathglynn in Antrim.
McAllister was handed a sentence of five years, O'Hara was sentenced to four years and nine months, while Pearson was given a sentence of four years and six months. Pearson was handed an additional sentence of one year and nine months on a charge of making property available to terrorists, namely the Renault Megane, bringing his total sentence to six years.
The trio were informed they will serve half their sentences in custody, with the remainder spent on licence when they are released from jail. As all three men were being led from the dock, friends and family of Mr Boreland, including Andre Shoukri, clapped in the public gallery.
Welcoming the sentences, Senior Investigating Officer Detective Chief Inspector Alan Dickson said: “John Boreland, was shot dead in the Sunningdale Gardens area of north Belfast in August 2016 as he made his way home from a local pub.
“The ensuing Major Investigation Team investigation into the 40 year old’s murder ascertained that the killer had emerged from a silver Renault Megane, fired a number of shots at Mr Boreland, fatally injuring him, before fleeing the scene in the same vehicle.
“Detectives were able to establish that this vehicle was owned by Thomas Pearson and that it had been used with his knowledge. We were also able to link Darren McAllister and Thomas O’Hara to the destruction of the Megane, which was burned out two days after the murder following a police appeal for information.
“We are pleased that these men will now face the consequences of their actions and we are satisfied that the sentences handed down today adequately reflect the seriousness of their crimes.
“The investigation into the murder of John Boreland remains open and we remain committed to identifying the murderer and all of those connected to this horrific crime and bringing them before the courts.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Boreland family for their dignity, patience and support throughout the investigation to date.”
Prior to sending the men to prison, Judge David McFarland was told the Megane was seen in the Sunningdale area at the time of the murder. An eye witness observed the vehicle doing an 'aggressive u-turn' before driving towards Mr Boreland's home. Seconds later, a number of shots were fired, and the deceased was found slumped between two cars.
An appeal for information about the vehicle was issued by police, and the following day the Megane was picked up on CCTV being driven in convoy with a Nissan Micra. The court heard the Micra was fitted with an insurance tracking device, which showed the vehicle had been driven to Wheeler's Road in the Belfast Hills - the same isolated road where the Megane was found burned out.
Pearson, who owned the Megane, later told police he was approached by people he knew were members of the UDA who told him to provide his vehicle. He left his keys in the ignition on Friday August 5, and two days later it was used as the getaway car in the murder.
The Megane was then picked up from an "unknown location" and driven to a farmhouse close to Dunmurry where Pearson was working at the time as a painter and decorator.
On August 8, contact was made between O'Hara and close relatives of McAllisters, and the following morning McAllister picked up O'Hara and Pearson in his Nissan, which was fitted with a tracker. The Megane was picked up and with O'Hara behind the wheel and with McAllister infront in the Nissan, the two cars were driven to an isolated spot at the Belfast Hills were it was torched.
The court heard that while O'Hara and McAllister went to Wheelers Road where the Megane was set on fire, "it appears" Pearson remained at the farmhouse.
A passer-by noticed the vehicle in flames at the layby and called the Fire Service, with the car removed from the scene by a scrap metal dealer, who then contacted the PSNI.
Judge David McFarland said: "Each defendant played a different role in perverting the course of justice by the destruction of the vehicle."
When all three of the men were interviewed, they each initially denied involvement. However, as the interviews progressed and evidence such as CCTV footage was put to them, they made some admissions.
All three men appeared before the court with previous convictions.
Charles MacCreanor QC, representing McAllister, said the father of three had a history of mental health difficulties, and claimed his client became involved due to "external pressures", adding: "His involvement was short-lived and the car was burned out."
The barrister also pointed out as McAllister had used his own car, which was fitted with a tracking device, this indicated a lack of sophistication.
O'Hara's barrister, Peter Irvine QC, said his client has been on remand since his arrest and has spent the last 20 months in prison. Revealing O'Hara "did accept driving the car from the farmyard to the quarry", Mr Irvine added "he was not the person who ignited that vehicle, he was not the instigator of this offence."
Terry McDonald QC, representing Pearson, spoke of an "absence of a significant record" and said it was not a "conventional case" for a grandfather of two to be involved in. The barrister also told the court his client "did not take part in the burning of the car."
Send the trio to prison, Judge McFarland said all three had been involved in the "deliberate destruction of a vehicle used in a brutal murder" which removed forensic links which may have helped to apprehend those involved and which was found burned out 35 hours after the killing.