Judge refuses to halt Carroll trial

THE trial of two men accused of the murder of Banbridge policeman Stephen Carroll will continue after the judge refused to halt the case.

Lord Justice Paul Girvan yesterday (Monday) rejected a defence application to stop the trial due to what they said was a lack of evidence.

Last week the court heard submissions from lawyers for the two murder accused that the case against them was weak and inconclusive.

Former Sinn Fein councillor Brendan McConville, of Glenholme Avenue in Craigavon, and John Paul Wootton of Collindale in Lurgan both deny the police officer’s murder in March 2009.

Last week the judge had refused another application by the defence to exclude the evidence of a key prosecution witness, known as M.

The judge ruled that M’s evidence was not unfair to Brendan McConville. The man claims to have seen Mr McConville at the murder scene half an hour before the shooting.

The judge said police had breached part of the terrorism act by not carrying out an identity parade on the strength of M’s statement, but he added that this was not done in bad faith and police did not reach their conclusions irrationally.

The defence this week continued to argue that the prosecution case is weak, claiming that even if Witness M’s evidence is allowed, it is of poor quality and a case of mistaken identity.

Mr McConville’s barrister also argued that a coat with his client’s DNA on it in the alleged getaway car could have been worn by up to five different people.

He also said a tracking device hidden in the car by the Army showed the vehicle was not near Mr McConville’s home on March 9, the day of the shooting.

He said a jury should convict on substance of the evidence rather than suspicion.

The lawyer for 20-year-old Mr Wootton said there had been a breakdown in forensic evidence found on a coat in his client’s car.

He accused the forensic scientists of “lacking in candour and frankness as to the validity of their conclusions.”

He added that evidence in relation to firearms residues and those allegedly found in the back of his client’s car was “all conjecture and not supported by evidence.”

He said certain basic procedures had not been carried out when forensic tests were taken.

In response to defence claims, the prosecution argued the trial should continue as the evidence was strong.

They said the two accused were closely linked and had planned and taken part in the murder together.

The said Witness M’s sighting of McConville, combined with DNA and gunshot residue evidence present a strong case against him.

They repeated their claims that Wootton was driving the getaway car.

It is understood neither John Paul Wootton nor Brendan McConville will give evidence as the trial continues.