Relief as appeal by killers of PC Stephen Carroll fails

Kate Carroll and her son Shane leave Belfast High Court
Kate Carroll and her son Shane leave Belfast High Court

The widow of a policeman murdered by dissident republicans has expressed relief after two men convicted of the shooting failed to overturn their convictions.

Constable Stephen Carroll was shot dead by the Continuity IRA in Craigavon, County Armagh, in March 2009.

Three years later Brendan McConville, 43, from Craigavon, and John Paul Wootton, 23, from nearby Lurgan, were found guilty of murdering the 48-year-old officer from Banbridge, Co Down.

Three appeal court judges today dismissed their appeals in Belfast High Court.

After the hearing, the officer’s widow Kate Carroll, who as ever was wearing her husband’s watch, said she felt like a dark cloud had lifted.

“It has been like the biggest, blackest cloud ever, you know the apprehension, the wondering, the way things have gone in the past,” she said.

“All I just wanted was justice and this day to be over and thank God that it has.”

She added: “I am so so relieved, I am shaking like a leaf but I am definitely relieved.”

Mrs Carroll said she hoped the outcome would send a strong message to those still engaged in violence.

“I am just hoping now that people will take a lesson from this and move on and stop this - it’s futile.

“Really at the end of the day - you are just ruining people’s lives and for what?”

The appeal was heard in Belfast High Court last year by Northern Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, Lord Justice Coghlin and Lord Justice Higgins. Their reserved judgment was delivered today.

After reviewing all the witness and forensic evidence, Sir Declan said he and his fellow appeal judges were satisfied that the original verdict had been correct.

“The surrounding circumstances in our view formed a compelling case that each of these appellants was guilty of the offences with which they were charged,” he said.

Wootton and McConville, both clean shaven and dressed in dark suits, showed no emotion as the decision was read.

Relatives and supporters of the two dissidents wept outside the court amid a heavy security presence.

Mrs Carroll, who sat in the public gallery beside her son Shane during the judgment, said she empathised with the distress of the murderers’ families.

“I would be the same if the shoe was on the other foot, I always see the other person’s point of view, but you know the evidence was there, you can’t deny the evidence,” she said.

In 2012, McConville was sentenced to at least 25 years in prison for the murder. Wootton was handed a minimum 14-year term.

Constable Carroll was shot dead in the dissident ambush two days after two British soldiers were murdered in a Real IRA gun attack outside their barracks in Antrim town.

He died of a single gunshot wound to the head sustained as he sat in an unmarked police car while colleagues attended a 999 call in the Lismore Manor area.

A brick had been thrown through the window of a house in the private development an hour earlier, prompting the occupants to call the police.

Constable Carroll was the first policeman killed by republican paramilitaries since the peace process reforms which saw the Royal Ulster Constabulary replaced by the new-look Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in 2001.

PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Ricky Harkness said the thoughts of the service were with the Carroll family.

“The Police Service of Northern Ireland is committed to protecting communities and delivering a policing service through the criminal justice system,” he said.

“This case proceeded through the criminal justice system, passing every test in terms of grounds for arrest, evidence to charge, going to trial and securing convictions. The Court of Appeal has upheld those convictions.

“We welcome this decision. It is an acknowledgement of all the hard work by Serious Crime Branch detectives and partner agencies to get justice for a valued and much missed colleague.”

He stressed that detectives believe more than two people were involved in the murder and asked anyone with information about the shooting to come forward.