Officer Stephen Carroll killers to be sentenced

Dissident republicans Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton are to be sentenced for their part in the murder of a Northern Ireland police officer Stephen Carroll three years ago.

Constable Stephen Carroll was shot dead in Craigavon, Co Armagh, in March 2009

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

Earlier this year McConville, 40, and Wootton, 20, were found guilty at Belfast Crown Court of murdering the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer and will now learn the minimum number of years they must serve in Maghaberry Prison, near Lisburn, County Antrim.

Con Carroll, 48, from Banbridge, County Down, was the first policeman killed by republican terrorists since the peace process reforms which saw the Royal Ulster Constabulary replaced by the new-look PSNI.

Passing verdict on McConville, of Aldervale, Tullygally in Craigavon, and Wootton, of Collingdale, Lurgan, County Armagh, in March, Lord Justice Paul Girvan said they were guilty of a “callous and cowardly crime”.

The officer’s widow Kate Carroll, who has repeatedly spoken out against dissident republican violence since her husband’s murder, reacted to the life sentences at the time saying: “I just felt justice has been done.”

Police have pledged to hunt down the rest of the gang involved in the murder.

Con Carroll was shot dead 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.

The gun used in the attack, an AK 47 assault rifle, was found hidden beneath an oil tank, wrapped in a black bin bag and clingfilm, in the garden of a house not far from where the officer was murdered.

A coat belonging to McConville which was recovered in the boot of the Citroen Saxo may have been wrapped around the gun when the shots were fired, the trial heard.

During the nine-week trial it also emerged that Wootton’s car had been fitted with a military tracking device and was under surveillance at the time Con Carroll was gunned down.

It showed the car was parked close to the murder scene at the time of the shooting and had driven close by McConville’s house later that night.

Almost a year after he was arrested, a man known as Witness M, emerged to tell police how he noticed McConville among a group of five men who had been close to the scene of the murder on the night the police were ambushed.

Months later two men came to his door and told him: “Keep your mouth shut.”

After the judgments, Mrs Carroll said she and the whole community owed Witness M a huge debt of gratitude for the “bravery and commitment” he showed in giving evidence.

Both McConville and Wootton refused to answer questions during scores of police interviews and they also decided to exercise their right not to go into the witness box and give evidence in the trial, which was heard without a jury.

McConville was a Sinn Fein councillor, serving one term in Craigavon Borough council in the late 1990s, before later parting company with the mainstream republican movement which ultimately agreed to accept the reformed policing service.

Wootton was also convicted of collecting information for the use of terrorism.

He was found guilty of trying to obtain the address of another policeman weeks before the murder.

Wootton was described by people who knew him as having a reputation for trouble that began in his teens.

He is too young to have known the Troubles but his trial heard he had shown a hatred for police and tried to secure details of an officer’s address by quizzing a youth who was dating the policeman’s daughter.

Wootton’s mother Sharon, pleaded guilty to charges of obstructing the investigation.

During the trial, the 39-year-old, from the same address as her son, admitted removing computer equipment from their house ahead of police searches.

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