A man charged with possession of a pistol by detectives investigating the murder of a former IRA man remains a suspect in the killing, a court has heard.
Patrick John Fitzpatrick, 53, was remanded in custody at Lisburn Magistrates’ Court following his arrest and charge by officers hunting the killers of father of nine Kevin McGuigan.
The former republican prisoner was gunned down in east Belfast in a suspected feud between former IRA members last week.
During the remand hearing before deputy district judge Philip Mateer, a detective sergeant told the court Fitzpatrick, from the Lagmore Dale area of west Belfast, was under suspicion of involvement in the murder.
“He remains a suspect in the murder of Kevin McGuigan,” he said.
The officer revealed that when police approached his house on Tuesday to make the arrest, the accused attempted to escape out the back with a “sophisticated” Glock pistol and holster.
He said police were also positioned at the rear of the property so Fitzpatrick then returned back inside. Officers then forcibly entered the premises and arrested the suspect in a downstairs bedroom. They found a pistol, ammunition and magazine in the room with him, the officer told the court.
He said the Glock’s identification markings had been removed from the weapon.
“This shows a forensic awareness,” he said.
Fitzpatrick has been charged with possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life.
Mr McGuigan, 53, was hit a number of times at point-blank range in front of his wife Dolores outside their home in Comber Court in the republican Short Strand last Wednesday.
He was suspected by some in the republican movement of involvement in the murder of former IRA leader Gerard “Jock” Davison in the nearby Markets area of Belfast three months ago.
There has been widespread speculation that his killing was a revenge attack by Mr Davison’s one-time republican associates.
Objecting to a defence application for bail, the detective cited concerns Fitzpatrick would abscond or commit further offences.
Outling the context of the case, he said police believed there was a risk of “retaliation” in relation to both the McGuigan and Davison murders.
He said the accused was previously licensed to hold firearms, and had been a gun club member, but that licence had since been revoked.
Fitzpatrick did not answer any questions during 14 police interviews but did present a written statement in which he accepted possession of the weapon.
His solicitor insisted his client only obtained the weapon to “protect his family”.
“He was only going to be using this in a defensive way,” he said.
The solicitor said Fitzpatrick had health problems and suffered near fatal liver failure last year.
He said that condition was brought on by pain medication he had been taking since 1988 when he was “shot at point blank range” while working as a taxi driver.
Judge Mateer refused the bail application and Fitzpatrick was remanded in custody to appear before the same court, via video link, next month.
The accused, wearing a blue T-shirt and glasses, nodded to supporters in the public gallery before being led away from the dock.
Detectives have made a series of arrests in the wake of Mr McGuigan’s murder last week.
Two men - aged 26 and 49 - continue to be questioned in police custody.
Three other men - including IRA Shankill bomber Sean Kelly - and a woman have been released unconditionally.