Widow 'pities' killers of PSNI officer Carroll

The widow of a murdered PSNI officer said she felt pity for his killers as she watched them being convicted and jailed for life.

Kate Carroll, whose husband Stephen was shot dead by the Continuity IRA in Craigavon, Co Armagh, said dissident republican terrorists who continued to wreak misery on families in the North Ireland were fighting a losing battle.

Brendan McConville, 40, and John Paul Wootton, 20, were found guilty at Belfast Crown Court of murdering Con Carroll in March 2009.

“I just felt justice has been done,” Mrs Carroll said after the verdicts were handed down by Lord Justice Paul Girvan.

“I felt pity and disgust for them because my idea is we are trying to move on in Northern Ireland, we are trying to keep the peace process going and no-one wants it (violence).”

The officer, 48, from Banbridge, Co 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.

Mrs Carroll, who embraced her son Shane after the judgments, said the hunt for justice would go on as not all members of the murder gang involved had been brought before the courts.

“I am happy that we have got this far but we have a long long way to go yet, not everyone connected with Steve’s murder has been found guilty,” she said.

The officer’s widow had a stark message for those still involved in violence in the North. Last year another policeman – 25-year-old Ronan Kerr – was murdered by dissidents in Omagh, Co Tyrone.

“Look at what they are doing,” said Mrs Carroll.

“They haven’t achieved anything from Steve’s killing, from Ronan Kerr’s killing, they’ve achieved absolutely nothing – they are fighting a losing battle and why do they do it? No-one wants it any more.”

Mrs Carroll said her life would never be the same again and the killers had left a void in her family that could not be filled.

“My son Shane and I spent 27 amazing years with Steve,” she said.

“His parents have buried their son too many years before his time, Stephen’s brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews have all suffered as a result of his murder.”

McConville, of Aldervale, Tullygally in Craigavon, and Wootton, of Collingdale, Lurgan, Co Armagh, showed no emotion as the judge passed sentence at the end of a judgment which took more than two hours to deliver.

After the hearing, PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott paid warm tribute to Con Carroll.

“I just wanted to say a few things about our colleague Stevie Carroll who was utterly committed, a servant of all, highly respected and just a great police officer,” he said before embracing his widow.

“His murder has achieved absolutely nothing.

“I also wanted to pay tribute to Kate and the family for their quite amazing quiet dignity throughout this whole investigation and trial and the way in which they have been bringing hope from tragedy in their words and actions and their commitment to peace.”

The judge described the killing of the policeman as a “callous and cowardly crime”.

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.

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.

The judge said he was lured to his death.

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 cling film, 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 court heard.

There was also an extraordinary revelation during the nine-week trial when it 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.

The judge found the device provided compelling evidence as to the car’s movements.

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.

Lord Justice Girvan said: “They have chosen to say nothing in relation to the case which is one which cries out for an explanation from each of them. In the circumstances the court must draw the inference, proper in the circumstances. If there were an innocent explanation they would have been easily capable of providing it to the court but chose not to do so.”

It took the judge just over two hours to reach his verdict. McConville, long-haired, sat stroking his lengthy ginger beard as some relatives in the public gallery behind broke down in tears. Wootton’s mother Sharon, who had earlier pleaded guilty to charges of obstructing the investigation, wept uncontrollably as she emerged from the dock holding her face in her hands.

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.

She was freed on continuing bail and will be sentenced later.

Her son and McConville will also hear later the minimum number of years they must serve at Maghaberry Prison, near Lisburn, Co Antrim where they had been held since their arrests.

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