Two jailed for life for killing policeman Stephen Carroll

Constable Stephen Carroll was shot dead as he attended a 999 call in 2009. He was the first PSNI officer to be killed after the 'troubles' Credit: PSNI/PA Wire

Two dissent republicans have been jailed for life for the murder of policeman Stephen Carroll in 2009.

Former Sinn Féin councillor Brendan McConville and 20-year-old John Paul Wootton were found guilty at the end of a nine week trial. The pair protested their innocence, but choose not to speak in court to defend themselves.

They were tried in a "diplock court" by a judge with no jury; common in Northern Ireland for crimes connected to terrorism.

Constable Stephen Carroll was the first policeman to be killed by Republican terrorists since the peace process reforms which saw the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) be replaced by the more representative Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI)

Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Continuity IRA. The ambush came two days after two British soldiers were murdered in a Real IRA gun attack outside their barracks in Antrim.

Constable Carroll's widow Kate embraced their son as the verdict was read out. Outside the courtroom she hugged her husband's colleagues who had helped investigate his murder.

The judge described the killing as a "callous and cowardly crime."

20-year-old Wootton was also convicted of trying to obtain the address of another policeman before the murder.

20-year-old John Paul Wootton at Lisburn Magistrates Court. Credit: Paul Faith/PA Wire

The court heard how the then 17-year-old Wootton viewed any policeman as a "legitimate target."

His friend described how he believed all members of the PSNI deserved to be murdered. He declared:

A military tracking device had been attached to Wootton's car before the shooting took place as he was under surveillance.

He had a history of being involved in republican rioting and dissent activity; despite growing up during the Northern Irish peace process and knowing little of the reality of the so-called Troubles.

Data from the bug did not stop the shooting but it did place him at the scene and he drove off just ten minutes after the fatal shot was fired. He was then arrested.

He refused to speak when first quizzed by detectives and remained obstinately silent through the course of thirty six further police interviews.

Whilst a prisoner in Maghaberry jail he took part in his own 'dirty protest' and refused to wash.

Constable Stephen Carroll's widow Kate Carroll with Chief Constable Matt Baggott. Credit: Paul Faith/PA Wire

After the hearing PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott paid warn tribute to Constable Carroll.

He then went on to pay tribute to his widow Kate Carroll for her "quiet dignity" throughout the investigation and her families "commitment to peace."

Today Kate said she felt pity for her husband's killers as he watched them being convicted and jailed for life.

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

Constable Stephen Carroll's widow Kate Carroll Credit: Paul Faith/PA Wire

In the wake of his death she said:

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.

The Citroen Saxo owned by 17-year-old Wootton had been bugged by police in the weeks prior to the murder. Credit: Paul Faith/PA Wire

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 she admitted removing computer equipment from their house ahead of police searches.

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

Mark Mallet reports on the continued threat of dissent republicans.