THE murder of Constable Stephen Carroll was a “set-up” near a housing estate police regarded as a dissident republican stronghold, Belfast Crown Court heard yesterday (Tuesday).
During the second day of the trial of a former Sinn Fein councillor and a mother and son facing charges arising out of the March 2009 murder, the court also heard of the “frantic . . . valiant” efforts to save the 48-year-old policeman.
Trial judge Lord Justice Girvan was told that because of the perceived danger, when police answered a 999 call that fateful night, they did so in two cars.
The policewoman driver of one car said that as she went to lock her vehicle she heard “two cracks . . . one after the other” which she immediately recognised as shots.
Jumping into the driver’s seat on hearing the “two bangs”, she ordered her colleague to “get in . . . it’s a set-up”.
Earlier that officer claimed that when they’d gone to Lismore Manor on the outskirts of Craigavon, they “went in with a second car driven by Constable Carroll”.
He said that Lismore was on the edge of the Drumbeg housing estate which “would have been known to us as a dissident republican stronghold”.
He said he was taking paperwork from the rear of his police car when he heard “two gunshots in quick succession, about a second between them”, and immediately crouched down behind the car to take cover.
He saw two other officers with their handguns drawn, one of whom aimed at his vehicle as it moved forward.
His driver, he said, ordered them to “get into the car and we’ll get out of here”. However, it was at this point that he was told Constable Carroll had been shot dead.
“I was very shocked, in disbelief. I didn’t really know what to do,” he said, before adding: “Lots of ideas were going on in my head . . . do I get out . . . do I stay in?
“In the end I probably didn’t do an awful lot,” the policeman admitted.
His driver also reported that one of their colleagues pointed his gun at them immediately after the shooting.
“I thought he did not recognise me as police . . . but then his gun went down and another officer beckoned me with his hand to come over,” she said.
“I spoke to him and asked if he was alright and he said my driver’s dead,” added the policewoman, who said she was then ordered to drive to the entrance of the estate to block the road to prevent anyone getting in or leaving.
One of the first back-up officers on the scene told of running to Constable Carroll’s vehicle, its rear windscreen shot in, and found the policeman slumped forward.
As he shouted “Stevie, Stevie” while trying to get a response from him, another officer was pleading with Constable Carroll to “stay with him”.
The officer said he “tried for a pulse, but couldn’t get one”, and that when the first of the paramedics arrived, “I was glad to see him”.
Earlier the court heard that despite all efforts to revive Constable Carroll, doctors and medical staff at Craigavon Area Hospital were forced to accept “he had received an unsurvivable injury”.
As details of the efforts of his colleagues, paramedics, ambulance men and doctors were read to the court, family and friends of Constable Carroll in the public gallery wiped tears from their eyes.
Lord Justice Girvan heard that the scene arriving medical staff found was “quite hectic” with armed police attempting to secure the area, while others treated their downed colleague.
Paramedics said they found Constable Carroll sitting slumped back in the front seat of his squad car, his eyes shut tight and blood pouring from a head wound.
However, while a heart monitor attached to his chest confirmed that there were no vital signs of life, the medical team continued to administer CPR to the stricken policeman.
This they also maintained during the eight to ten minute dash to hospital, described as “an unhindered journey” after police had cleared the way of other traffic.
The court also heard of the “valiant efforts” by hospital staff to treat Constable Carroll, as described by his police inspector.
Although staff worked for over 20 minutes on him, a doctor said medical staff were forced to “agree that Constable Carroll had received an unsurvivable injury”.
Former Sinn Fein councillor Brendan McConville, 39, of Aldervale, Tullygally, and 19-year-old John Paul Wootton, from Collingdale, Lurgan, deny murdering the 48-year-old constable on March 9, 2009, just two days after two soldiers were gunned down outside Massereene Army Barracks in Antrim.
Wootton’s 48-year-old mother Sharon, of the same address, denies perverting justice by removing a computer from her home.