The judge denied a request to allow a Londonderry man to visit his family before being sentenced for possession of the weapon used to kill journalist Lyra McKee.
An unsuccessful application to release Niall Width on ‘compassionate bail’ to allow him to visit his newborn son was heard at Belfast Crown Court today.
The 29-year-old Tyrconnell Street man has been in custody since May and is awaiting sentencing on charges of possession of the weapon used to kill Ms McKee (29), who was killed while monitoring riots in the Creggan area of the city. April 2018.
Shirin pleaded guilty to possession of a 22-caliber Hammerli semi-automatic pistol, a magazine, and some .22-caliber rounds of ammunition with the intent to allow another person to endanger life or cause serious property damage between September 22, 2018 and June. 6, 2020.
The defendant’s lawyer, Kieran Mallon QC, said the allegation was made on the basis that he had “kept the weapon for a short period of time” but was unaware of its history.
The story, Mr Mallon said, was that the gun in question was used by the New IRA to kill Ms McKee.
The lawyer emphasized that Shirin’s statement was about “second possession of limbs” and it was by no means the case of the Crown that Shirin was present on Fanad Drive on the evening of the murder.
Calling on Judge Roseanne McCormick to post bail for several days so Shirin can return home and visit his partner and three children, including their newborn son, Mr Mallon said the visit would also allow Shirin to support his family.
Reminding the judge that Shirin had “complied with bail requirements” for a number of years, Mr. Mallon said that although a sentencing hearing was originally scheduled for June, it has not yet taken place for various reasons.
When asked by Judge McCormick what the Crown’s view was, defense attorney Robin Steer said the application was dismissed.
Mr. Steer said a second-limb claim was accepted and there was no suggestion or evidence that Shirin was involved in Ms. McKee’s murder.
Pointing out that Shirin has pleaded guilty and is awaiting a “significant sentencing,” Mr. Steer said: “Intentional possession of a firearm is a very serious crime.
“It was a .22 pistol with eight suitable rounds. The pistol was a viable weapon. He has been tested. It was discovered on June 5, 2020, and the applicant’s DNA was extracted from gun swabs.
“The weapon was used in four paramilitary shootings between September 2018 and March 2019, as well as in the murder of Lyra McKee on April 18, 2019.”
Mr. Steer added that while it is believed that Shirin did not know that the gun was used to kill McKee, he must have known about the New IRA’s activities in Derry at the time and its involvement in the assassination.
Speaking about the reasons why the application was made, Mr. Steer said that while objecting to an application filed for family reasons may seem “hard-hearted”, the rights of the public and society must also be respected.
Judge McCormick thanked both lawyers for their representations and said her “significant experience” in family courts made her sympathetic to the pressure parents face.
She continued, “However, it is not appropriate to allow Mr. Shirin to be released on bail in circumstances where he is imminently facing a very serious prison sentence.”
Saying that she “listened carefully” to the defense’s argument that Shirin was unaware of the weapon’s history – and in particular its use in Ms McKee’s murder – the judge added: “Nevertheless… it is a very important weapon.” .
Judge McCormick denied the motion and Shirin was again remanded into custody pending sentencing, due on September 2, 2022.