Belfast Telegraph

Witnesses to Lyra McKee murder could be 'too scared to come forward' if men accused of rioting released

Murdered journalist Lyra McKee (Chiho Tang/Oranga Creative)
Murdered journalist Lyra McKee (Chiho Tang/Oranga Creative)

By Alan Erwin

Potential witnesses to the killing of journalist Lyra McKee may be too scared to come forward if two men accused of rioting on the night she died are released, the High Court heard on Tuesday.

Prosecutors said tensions remain high in the part of Derry where she was shot, with graffiti warning that police informers will be "executed".

The claim was made as one of those allegedly involved in disorder in the Creggan estate on April 18 applied for bail.

Christopher Gillen, 39, from Balbane Pass in the city, faces charges of rioting, petrol bomb offences, and the hijacking and arson of a tipper truck.

The allegations against him relate to street disturbances where police were attacked with stones, petrol bombs and other missiles.

Four vehicles were hijacked during unrest said to have been orchestrated and led by members of the New IRA.

A number of shots were also fired by an unidentified gunman, one of which fatally wounded Ms McKee.

Gillen is not charged with any offences directly connected to the 29-year-old journalist's killing.

But Crown lawyer Iryna Kennedy claimed CCTV footage links him to the general disturbances through clothing worn by one of the suspected rioters.

Opposing Gillen's bid to secure bail to an address four miles away, she said tensions are still running high in the Creggan amid fears of intimidation.

The court heard that an appeal by Ms McKee's partner, Sara Canning, for witnesses to her shooting led to graffiti in the area threatening consequences for those who co-operate.

One of the street messages declared that the "New IRA aren't done".

Another warned: "Informers will be executed."

Mrs Kennedy contended that it would be "insensitive" for Gillen to be allowed to live at the proposed location.

"It's very difficult for witnesses to come forward in Derry because of the fear of intimidation," she said.

"Those who might be inclined to come forward certainly will not if he were released to the area."

Lord Justice McCloskey was also told Gillen is allegedly associated with the dissident republican-linked group Saoradh.

However, defence barrister Sean Doherty stressed Gillen strongly denies any assertion that he has ties the New IRA.

He said: "There are two discreet issues: the support of a political aspiration on the one hand, and membership of an unlawful paramilitary organisation on the other."

Following submissions the bail application was adjourned.

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