Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Newry shooting: Traveller gang refused bail

A chance encounter with a police patrol vehicle minutes before shots were fired at a house in the Altmore Gardens area of Newry on Monday night, led to the arrest of five members of the travelling community in connection with the shooting. The men were arrested near the scene of the incident after speeding from an attempted traffic stop by police.

Thomas O’Reilly (23), John Delaney (29), John O’Reilly (28), William O’Reilly (28) and Terry O’Reilly (29), appeared in Newry Magistrates Court on Wednesday charged with a number of offences including possession of a firearm in suspicious circumstances, possession of an offensive weapon, obstructing police, assisting offenders and taking and driving away a motor vehicle. 

The court heard that the gang were arrested after a PSNI patrol drove past the men sitting in a silver BMW parked at a roundabout near Martin’s Lane in the city with its lights off. As the police patrol turned back to investigate the suspicious vehicle, the BMW sped off with its doors open and no headlights. Officers said the men also appeared to throw a bill hook from the car.  

The prosecution told the court that a Honda vehicle then overtook the Wexford registered BMW and continued at speed whilst the BMW moved over into the centre of the Carnagat Road and slowed down preventing the police vehicle from safely overtaking to pursue the Honda Accord.  The BMW then came to a stop and when police approached the vehicle they saw the driver’s seat empty but noted four males in the back seat and one in the passenger seat.

While dealing with the defendants, police received a radio transmission that a dark coloured Honda had just been involved in a shooting at Altmore Gardens in the city, adjacent to where the defendants were initially spotted by police. Realising the significance of the traffic stop, officers arrested the men on suspicion of a number of offences. 

The court heard that a slash hook on a long stick was discovered on the road at the entrance to the Loanda Crescent housing estate and a second bill hook was found along the Carnagat Road, leading to the gang also being arrested on possession of an offensive weapon with intent to commit a number of offences.

The Honda Accord allegedly involved in the Altmore Gardens shooting was subsequently discovered unoccupied at a traveller halting site on Ellisholding Road in south Armagh, where all but one of the defendants resides. Witnesses told police that the car entered the site at high speed before two males took off across fields. The prosecution lawyer said the rightful owner of the BMW, who also lives on the Ellisholding site, told police she had left the vehicle parked and locked at her address, leaving the key in her unlocked caravan.  According to her statement the owner did not give anyone permission to take it and then discovered the key was missing. The defendants were re-arrested in custody for taking and driving away the vehicle. 

Whilst the suspected shotgun used in the shooting remains outstanding, a rifle was discovered contained in an unlocked garage door at the Ellisholding site. 

Police believe the BMW occupants knew of the planned attack on the victim and were operating as a “lookout”. The prosecution maintained the gang assisted in the commission of the offence and in so doing, deliberately obstructed police in pursuing the Honda.  The court also heard that police believe that if the victim had been close to the window of his home the shots fired would have struck him. 

The five men were said to have offered no comment during police interviews and were not compliant in assisting police in identifying the other outstanding suspects nor the outstanding shotgun. 

Objections to bail were outlined to the judge, including the fear of the men absconding as four of the gang are not native to the area.  The risk of further offending and potential interference with witnesses was also highlighted as well as the PSNI’s belief that the shooting was part of a traveller feud and was an attempt on a person’s life. 

Having been granted bail with restrictions by Deputy District Judge Prenter, an application to the High Court on Thursday resulted in bail for all five defendants being revoked.  The men were subsequently remanded into custody at Maghaberry Prison until next month’s Court sitting at Newry Courthouse.