Northern Ireland: conviction for possession of gun used to kill Lyra McKee highlights lingering impunity for her murder
On 14 September 2022, a Belfast court convicted a man, Niall Sheerin, of possessing the gun used to kill journalist Lyra McKee and sentenced him to seven years in prison. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes the development, but emphasises the urgent need for justice for the killing itself. Delayed justice for McKee will only worsen the climate of impunity for violence against journalists in Northern Ireland.
“Today’s news is a welcome development in the case of the murder of Lyra McKee, however it does not represent justice for the heinous crime of her killing. Full justice will only be obtained once all those involved in her murder face criminal accountability. Further delays will only contribute to a worrying overall climate for media in Northern Ireland, where journalists still face serious risk for doing their job.
Despite the conviction of Niall Sheerin for his role in storing the firearm, no one has been brought to trial for the murder of McKee, who was killed while observing rioting in the Creggan area of Derry, Northern Ireland, on 18 April 2019. The judge presiding over the hearing at Belfast Crown Court, Mr Justice Fowler, told the court that he was not sentencing Sheerin in connection with the murder of Lyra McKee.
The court heard that the weapon used to kill McKee was found behind a pole in a field in the Ballymagroarty area of Derry in 2020. DNA linked to Sheerin was found on the weapon. Despite questions as to whether Sheerin knew he was storing the firearm on behalf of the new IRA, which has claimed responsibility for McKee’s murder, prosecutors accepted they could not establish whether the defendant was aware of the specific history of the firearm.
Over the past three and a half years, numerous arrests have been made in connection with the case. Paul McIntyre was charged with McKee’s murder and related offences in February 2020 but is currently out on bail, awaiting trial. In October 2021, eight men were charged – three with the murder itself, and five with rioting and associated offences. A further round of six arrests was made in March 2022. The police have confirmed that the investigation into her murder remains “very much active".
The UK is ranked 24th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index.