IN an astonishing act of selflessness Kate Carroll has revealed her sympathy for the parents of one of the men convicted of killing her husband.
A packed courtroom heard Lord Justice Paul Girvan deliver his two-hour judgement in which he said former Sinn Fein councillor Brendan McConville and 20-year-old John Paul Wootton were guilty of the murder of Constable Stephen Carroll in March 2009.
The officer, who was the first member of the PSNI to be killed since its formation, was sitting in an unmarked police car at Lismore Manor in Craigavon when he was shot in the back of the head. The trial heard that he had been lured to the area along with other colleagues after a bogus emergency call-out earlier that evening.
McConville, of Glenholme Avenue in Craigavon and Wootton of Collindale in Lurgan, were both convicted of murder and possession of firearms with intent. Wootton faced a further charge of attempting to collect or make a record of information likely to be useful to a terrorist.
Wootton’s 39-year-old mother was earlier convicted of obstructing police during the course of their investigations. All three will be sentenced in the coming weeks.
Kate, Stephen’s wife of 24 years, was present for almost every day of the trial which revealed precise details of her husband’s murder from the impact of the bullet on his skull to the moment colleagues heard a shot and realised he had been killed.
But Kate’s dignity throughout the court appearances now extends further, as she admits to being sympathetic to the parents of McConville.
“They seemed like decent people to me,” said the widow. “They acknowledged me twice with a nod and a slight smile and I did the same back. I feel sorry for them that, through no fault of their own they have now lost a son.
“I knew that guy had shot Steve - I saw that man up close and thought ‘How could you do that?’ The first day in court I stared him down to look for a glimmer of remorse - but I found none.
“I was just sitting looking at the two of them and thinking ‘You have ruined your entire lives all because you want to be seen as these brave guys’.”
As for Wootton, a teen at the time of the killing, Kate said she pities a “boy” who will spend a large portion of his adult life behind bars.
“He was so young and now what sort of life will he have? The words that struck me during the trial were when he was supposed to have said ‘A cop’s a cop’.
“Steve was not just a policeman. Behind every ‘cop’ is a family that loves them - a mother, a father, children and grandchildren. Steve was a good man and to take that innocent, good man away is disgusting.”
Kate said she feels uneasy that there are still people walking free who know what happened that night and were involved in some way.
“There are a lot more people still to be caught,” said the grandmother. “It unnerves me to know there are people out there maybe planning to do the same thing all over again.
“But the police are doing their very best to keep them off the streets.”
Throughout the court ordeal Kate was supported by her son Shane, other family and friends and members of Stephen’s family. Two of the worst days of evidence involved gruesome details about the head wound the policeman sustained, said Kate, as well as another time when the gun used in the killing was brought into court.
“The day they cocked the gun and pulled the trigger I had to get up and leave. I didn’t let them (McConville and Wootton) see my tears, but I went to a private room and cried. I was almost sick. “Then I composed myself, put on my second mask and returned to listen to the rest of that day’s evidence”
Following the trial Kate said she received a text from Nuala Kerr, the mother of Police Constable Ronan Kerr who was killed by a booby-trap bomb under his car just over one year ago.
Kate, while keen that the others involved in the killing are brought to justice, said she feels a gratitude that she has received some closure.
“I am aware that some people never get any closure and so I am relieved that I have now got some,” she said. “I am sure the police, who have been so good to me and so supportive since Steve’s death, will continue their investigations in the rigorous manner with which they brought two of Steve’s murderers to justice.”
Police from the Republic of Ireland, London and even New York City have made contact with Kate since her husband’s death - as well as the support she praises from the PSNI.
“I had calls from the NYPD last week and texts from Hugh Orde to make sure I was keeping strong and coping ahead of the verdicts.”
Kate’s gratitude to a man known only as Witness M, is palpable.
“I cannot express how thankful I am that that man had the courage to come forward,” she said. The man, who gave evidence anonymously via videolink, testified to having seen McConville close to the scene of the murder.
“His bravery and courage, I just couldn’t get over. He faced up to threats. We owe him such a debt of gratitude.”
Kate said that, although she is still somewhat overwhelmed by the experiences of the past few months and especially the three “waiting weeks” between its completion and the verdict, she is determined to help others who may have experienced a similar tragedy in their lives.
To this end she is planning to write a book recalling her experiences from the moment she was informed of her husband’s death, through the days of grief which followed, to the “gruelling” trial which eventually saw Stephen’s killers convicted.
“The night I was told Steve had died I wrote a note to myself because I couldn’t really believe it until I read it out,” Kate explained. “I read it over and over again. From then I have written bits and pieces about my experiences. I wrote as far back as January 2009, about the good times Steve and I had in the months before his death. I would like to write the book for my own peace of mind as well as to help others through difficult experiences.”
Three young people inspired by Stephen’s memory have already achieved great success in their lives - much to Kate’s joy.
A young Banbridge Academy student is to be awarded a prize from the Youth Justice Agency later this month for her charity work in relation to the ‘Not in My Name’ group set up in the wake of the policeman’s death.
The girl wrote a poignant letter to Kate following Stephen’s murder and has since remained in contact.
“I was so moved and touched by this girl’s mature words after Steve’s death and she full ydeserves this award,” she said.
And two of Stephen’s nephews have done him proud having achieved sporting success recently in his memory.
“Steve’s nephews Reece and Ryan won gold medals when they swam in the Olympic pool last month with their school. Steve always said he would teach them and make them great swimmers one day so the two boys have done this for him. Steve would be so proud.”