UK

Man who stored Lyra McKee murder weapon jailed for seven years

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man convicted of possessing the gun used to shoot journalist Lyra McKee has been sentenced to seven years in prison.

Niall Sheerin, 29, pleaded guilty earlier this year to possession of a pistol and ammunition with intent to enable another person to endanger life.

At a hearing in Belfast on Wednesday, judge Mr Justice Fowler handed down an extended custodial sentence of seven years’ imprisonment and a further five years on licence.

The gun used to kill the author – a Hammerli X-Esse .22 pistol – was found wrapped in plastic bags in a hollow behind a telegraph pole in a field in the Ballymagroarty area of Londonderry in 2020.

Bullets and a spent ammunition magazine were also discovered in the package.

Ballistics tests showed the pistol had been used in five shootings in the city in the previous 21 months, including the April 18, 2019 murder of Ms McKee.

The 29-year-old was shot dead as she observed rioting in the Creggan area of Derry.

The dissident republican organisation styling itself as the New IRA admitted responsibility for her murder.

DNA linked to Sheerin was found on the weapon.

The defendant, from Tyrconnell Street in Derry, admitted possession of the weapon on dates unknown between September 11, 2018 and June 6, 2020.

At an earlier sentence hearing, a defence barrister insisted Sheerin had no knowledge of how the weapon had been used prior to him storing it for a “short period of time”.

The Crown contended that Sheerin was aware he was storing a gun on behalf of the New IRA.

However, prosecutors accepted they could not establish whether the defendant would have been aware of the specific history of the firearm.

On Wednesday, Justice Fowler said he wanted to make clear he was not passing sentence in connection with the murder of Ms McKee, as he noted it had not been established whether Sheerin knew the history of the weapon before he came into possession of it.

“I am sentencing on the basis of his intention to enable others to endanger life by virtue of the fact he was in possession and stored this weapon for a terrorist organisation he knew was actively engaged in gun attacks, one of which had caused the death of Lyra McKee,” he said.

The judge said there was no evidence before the court that the defendant had an “organisational role” with the New IRA “nor any involvement over and above storage of this weapon”.

As well as handing down the extended sentence, he ordered Sheerin to sign notification requirements under counter-terrorism laws for 15 years.

Three men are currently awaiting trial charged with the murder of Ms McKee.

Following the sentencing of Sheerin, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said the investigation into the shooting of the journalist remains “very much active”.

Detective Superintendent Eamonn Corrigan said: “Lyra McKee, at just 29 years old, died after being shot in Creggan, in Derry/Londonderry, on April 18, 2019.

“It’s over three years now since that tragic day, and the pain felt by Lyra’s loved ones is understandably as raw as ever.

“I want to thank members of the public for their support, and I’m keen to reassure the community that we remain committed to working with them and our partner agencies to stop the corrosive influence of terrorists.

“Our investigation into Lyra’s murder, as demonstrated by today’s sentencing, is very much active. And, with continued support, we will work tirelessly to bring those responsible before the courts.

“We are very grateful to the independent charity Crimestoppers, which is now offering an increased reward of up to £20,000 for information it receives that leads to the prosecution of those responsible.”

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