Ex-Sinn Fein Politician Charged With Killing Cop

By: STAFF Email
By: STAFF Email

A former Sinn Fein councilman was arraigned Wednesday on charges of murdering a Northern Ireland policeman and a senior judge ordered police to free or charge six other suspected Irish Republican Army dissidents held over recent killings.

Brendan McConville, 37, didn't speak during the brief court hearing in Lisburn, a Belfast suburb.

He faces charges of murdering the policeman March 9 and possessing an assault rifle and ammunition.

He was the second person to be charged with the murder and arms possession, joining a 17-year-old boy similarly charged Monday.

McConville was a town councilman for Sinn Fein until 1997, when the mainstream IRA stopped its 27-year effort to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom.

He drifted away from the party following its landmark 2007 moves to forge a power-sharing government with Northern Ireland's British Protestant majority and to begin supporting the police force.

Detectives have spent the past two weeks arresting and interrogating suspected IRA dissidents suspected of involvement in this month's two deadly attacks - the first against British security forces since 1998.

They have been holding four suspects on suspicion of killing two off-duty, unarmed British soldiers outside an army base March 7, and four others over the killing of 48-year-old policeman Stephen Carroll two days later.

Northern Ireland's senior judge, Lord Chief Justice Brian Kerr, ordered the detectives to free or charge six of those eight suspects immediately because their detentions had been handled fully in line with legal requirements.

The officer leading the investigation into both attacks, Chief Superintendent Derek Williamson, said the police and its legal advisers were not sure yet to respond to Kerr's judgment.

He said the options would include freeing the suspects indefinitely,
charging them with evidence already to hand, and briefly releasing
and then rearresting them. "We will now have to go and look at all our options," Williamson told reporters outside Belfast High Court.

He said the six were being held, in part, because tests on potential forensic evidence against them had not been fully analyzed.

Kerr's ruling backed a lawsuit by the six men, who have been held for 11 to 12 days each without charge under terms of Britain's 2006 Terrorism Act.

That law created a new maximum 28-day period for interrogations of terror suspects, subject to weekly extensions by a judge.

But in his verdict, Kerr faulted a junior judge who had authorized the six men's continued detention beyond their initial week in custody.

He said that decision failed to assess fully the police requirements for their continued detention - and crucially did not explore at all the awfulness of their original arrests.

Kerr said he had formed no opinion on whether the original arrests were lawful, but said the judge who granted the extension should have examined the issue.

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