Stephen Carroll killer has jail term increased

John Paul Wootton will now serve at least 18 years in prison
John Paul Wootton will now serve at least 18 years in prison

The minimum prison term imposed on a dissident republican for the murder of Constable Stephen Carroll is to be increased by four years, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Senior judges raised John Paul Wootton’s tariff from 14 to 18 years due to the aggravating factors of his still undefined role in the terrorist killing.

They also confirmed their decision not to interfere with the minimum 25-year sentence co-defendant Brendan McConville will serve.

Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory had argued that both men’s jail terms were unduly lenient.

Wootton, 23, and McConville, 43, are currently serving life sentences after being jointly convicted of the Continuity IRA murder.

Constable Carroll was the first member of the PSNI to be killed.

He was ambushed and shot dead as he responded to a 999 call at Lismore Manor, Craigavon in March 2009.

McConville, formerly of Glenholme Avenue in the town, and Wootton, from Lurgan, were also convicted of possession of an AK47 assault rifle and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

The younger man was further found guilty of attempting to collect information likely to be of use to terrorists.

A circumstantial case against them at the non-jury trial involved DNA and other evidence.

Wootton’s car was held to have been near the scene of the attack and driven off within minutes of the killing. Gun residue was found on a coat linked to McConville which was later recovered from the vehicle.

In May both men failed in attempts to have their murder convictions overturned.

The case then switched to a prosecution challenge against the sentences handed down to the pair.

Mr McGrory argued that a deterrent element should be considered for the killing of an on-duty police officer by those seeking to terrorise the community for political or ideological motives.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, sitting with Lord Justices Higgins and Coghlin, held that the trial judge had properly took into account all aggravating factors in imposing a minimum 25-year term on McConville.

Turning to Wootton, Sir Declan acknowledged there is no suggestion he planned the attack or fired the fatal shots.

But he added: “He was a willing participant in the terrorist murder of a police officer. The precise nature of his role in the offence has not been established.”

As Wootton listened to the verdict via a prison video-link, the judge listed three significant aggravating factors in his case: it was a terrorist murder; the victim was a police officer carrying out his duties; and Wootton was also convicted of attempting to obtain information useful to terrorists on another police officer.

Defence lawyers had stressed how Wootton was still only 17 at the time of the killing.

But Sir Declan held: “The mitigation for youth in the case of a person who was approximately two months short of his 18th birthday at the time of the commission of a serious violent offence of this nature is limited.

“We have taken into account the effect of double jeopardy arising from his exposure to this reference and in the circumstances we substitute a tariff of 18 years.”