On the 9th March 2009 Police Constable Stephen Carroll was shot and killed while responding to an emergency 999 call in the Craigavon area. The following day police arrived at the home of Brendan McConville, a local republican, and placed him under arrest. Later that morning, John Paul Wootton, another republican from the area, was arrested in the Craigavon area and had his vehicle seized.
Both men were taken to Antrim for interrogation where they, along with a number of other individuals, were detained while the vehicle owned by John Paul Wootton was taken to Maydown Barracks in Derry for examination. Some days later police recovered the weapon used in the shooting from the rear garden of a house in the Pinebank housing estate in Craigavon. Around the same time a brown jacket with traces of DNA from Brendan McConville amongst others, and a residue which was claimed might have come from a firearm, was taken from the boot of the vehicle owned by John Paul Wootton.
Based on this finding, and under intense pressure to get results, police focused their attentions on these two men and set about constructing a case against them. The reason the police were under so much pressure was that Constable Carroll was the first police officer to be killed since the Good Friday Agreement. Adding to the pressure was the fact that this shooting took place within days of an attack on Masssereen Barracks where two British soldiers were killed.
It later transpired that the car owned by John Paul Wootton had been subject to covert surveillance at the time of the attack by means of a tracking device which had been hidden either in or on the vehicle by the British Army. This device provided data on the movement of the vehicle around the time of the shooting. It would later come to light that data from this device was wiped while the device was still in the possession of the Army. No one could explain why this had happened. The remainder of the data was used to construct a circumstantial yet arguably weak case against the two men.
Eleven months after the shooting a local man contacted the police in the middle of the night on Valentines night and, under the influence of alcohol, claimed to have seen Brendan McConville close to the area from which the shooting occurred on the night of the shooting. It should be borne in mind that in the eleven months from the shooting to this man’s statement, Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton had been charged with the shooting and their identities were widely broadcast throughout the media.
This man, known only to the court as Witness M, lied continuously under oath while giving evidence. He was adamant that he had no problems with his eyesight and when asked if he had been prescribed glasses he claimed that he did occasionally wear glasses, but only as a fashion item. It was only on day two of his testimony, when confronted with evidence acquired by Brendan McConville’s legal team from an optician in Lurgan where he had previously underwent an eyesight examination, that he conceded that he had been prescribed glasses but this time claimed that they were just for reading. Evidence later given in court would show that in fact Witness M suffered from both astigmatism and short sightedness and could only identify facial features up to half the distance at which he claimed to identify Brendan McConville. At the conclusion of the case the single judge, relying heavily on circumstance and inference, found both men guilty and sentenced them to life in prison. Both men continue to maintain their innocence and with an appeal fast approaching they ask that the facts be made public so that their quest for justice does not develop into another long running saga like that of the Guilford four or the Birmingham six.
Don’t let the appeal become another whitewash or sweeping under the carpet exercise. Help end this miscarriage of justice.