Detective denies pressing witness to change statement, appeal court hears

Former Sinn Fein Councillor Brendan McConville r.
Former Sinn Fein Councillor Brendan McConville r.

A detective has denied pressing a witness to change his statement in the case of case of two men appealing convictions for murdering a policeman.

Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton are challenging their conviction for murdering Constable Stephen Carroll in Craigavon in 2009.

At the original trial, a man known as Witness M said he had seen McConville near the scene of the shooting.

However, witness M’s father said his son was a “Walter Mitty” character. He said Witness M “liked to make up stories”.

McConville, 42, of Glenholme Avenue, Craigavon and Wootton, 22, from Colingdale, Lurgan, are serving life sentences for killing the police officer, who was ambushed and shot dead as he responded to a 999 call at Lismore Manor, Craigavon.

Witness M’s father was arrested in April, in what defence lawyers claim was an attempt to “sabotage” the appeal. A detective who questioned Witness M’s father was called to give evidence. A defence barrister put it to the detective that the “point of the arrest” was to put pressure on Witness M’s father to withdraw his statement. The detective replied: “That’s incorrect”.

At a previous date, the Appeal Court heard that some gun discharge residue on a coat linked to one of the two men found guilty of Constable Carroll’s could have come from a different firing incident.

Prosecutors also accepted they could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that either Brendan McConville or the murder weapon were transported in co-defendant John Paul Wootton’s car. Instead they argued that the surrounding circumstances confirmed the two men’s guilt.

The case against them at the non-jury trial involved DNA and other evidence.

Prosecutors contended that Wootton’s car was near the scene of the attack and driven off within minutes of the killing.

However, his legal team insist absolutely no evidence exists to link him to any role in the shooting.

Gun residue was found on a coat linked to McConville which was later recovered from the vehicle.

On day three of the two men’s joint appeal judges examined whether it could have come from a separate incident.

Some of the residue could have come from another source, the court heard.

Questioned on whether it could be proven that the coat was at the firing point on the night of the killing, prosecution counsel Ciaran Murphy QC said he could prove a connection with the relevant particles. Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan then asked: “Are you proving beyond reasonable doubt that the weapon was transported in Mr Wootton’s car?” The barrister replied: “No.”