Appeal of two men convicted of Stephen Carroll murder begins

Constable Stephen Carroll
Constable Stephen Carroll
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A key prosecution witness at the trial of two men jailed for murdering PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll is a compulsive liar who lives in a world of his own, a court heard today.

Defence lawyers claimed he has been branded a Walter Mitty-type character by his own family, and described his account of what he saw on the night of the shooting as “farcical”.

The man’s reliability came under attack as Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton began appeals against being found guilty of murder.

Constable Carroll was ambushed and shot dead as he responded to a 999 call at Lismore Manor, Craigavon in March 2009.

McConville, 42, of Glenholme Avenue in the town, is serving at least a 25 year sentence for the murder.

Wootton, 22, of Collindale, Lurgan, received a minimum 14-year term.

Dressed in dark suits, both men were led handcuffed into a packed Court of Appeal in Belfast for their bid to have their convictions quashed.

Their family, friends and supporters - including Gerry Conlon, one of the Guildford Four - gathered in the public gallery, a few feet away from the murdered officer’s widow Kate Carroll.

McConville’s legal team opened the hearing with a scathing assessment of the account given by a man referred to only as Witness M who claimed to have seen their client in the area around the time of the killing.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, Lord Justice Higgins and Lord Justice Coghlin were told the prosecution case depended entirely on circumstantial evidence based on this alleged sighting.

Barry Macdonald QC said: “The appellant contends that Witness M was a dishonest, demonstrably unreliable witness whose account of what he saw on the night in question bordered on the farcical.

“We will be seeking to adduce fresh evidence to the effect that Witness M was known to his own family as a Walter Mitty character.

“He had the habit of making up stories and was such a compulsive liar that, in the words of the new witness, you couldn’t believe anything he said.”

The barrister continued: “Witness M lives in a world of his own and would often say things that simply weren’t true.”

As McConville took notes at various points in the hearing, the court heard he maintains he had nothing to do with the murder.

It was set out how Constable Carroll was shot twice in the head as he sat in his car. The murder weapon, an AK47, was recovered from under an oil tank during subsequent police searches.

Witness M only phoned police to make his claims eleven months later, the court heard.

“He had been drinking until the early hours of the morning and he had drunk so much that one could tell at the other end of the telephone line that he was under the influence of alcohol,” Mr Macdonald said.

The accuracy of Witness M’s claims about being threatened and warned to “keep your mouth shut” was also called into question.

Mr Macdonald argued that different timings given for this alleged approach should have “set alarm bells ringing” among police.

The barrister then challenged his account on when he claims to have made a connection between what he saw and the shooting.

He set out how Witness M at one stage recalled going home and discussing it with his partner.

“Once again that ought to have alerted the police officer and indeed, we say, the trial judge, to the fact that this man was not a reliable historian, to put it mildly.”

The hearing continues.