A 42-year-old Derry man who walked into a police station and confessed to a string of IRA-related offences in the 1990s was handed a 10-year prison sentence today.
Christopher Paul O’Kane – who admitted playing a role in several attacks against the security forces as well as assisting offenders in the aftermath of a 21-year old policeman’s murder – appeared in the dock of Belfast Crown Court.
Due to his sentencing falling within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, coupled with time he has already served on remand, it is expected that O’Kane, from Woodland Avenue in Derry, will be released from prison around May 2016.
During today’s sentencing, Judge Gordon Kerr QC said that while he accepted O’Kane’s role was not one of a bomb-maker or a planter of bombs, at the time of offending he was “acting as a member of a terrorist group” whose intention was to target members of the security forces.
Judge Kerr also pointed out that had O’Kane not confessed to his involvement in terrorist offences in Londonderry between 1991 and 1996, he would never have been prosecuted and sentenced.
The court heard that in one of the five offences he pleaded guilty to, O’Kane drove a boat taken from Foyle Search and Rescue – a service which his parents helped establish – and the bomb on board the boat was then placed on the jetty at the Fort George Army base.
Prior to today’s sentencing, Judge Kerr was told that in May 2008 O’Kane walked into Strand Road police station and said he wished to confess to his involvement in various terrorist-related offences in the 1990s.
O’Kane, whose mental health began to deteriorate in 2007, was interviewed and released later that day and was informed that police wanted to make further enquiries. Police obtained O’Kane’s mental health records and discovered he had been a patient at Gransha Hospital.
Crown prosecutor Robin Steer revealed that O’Kane was interviewed again in September 2008 regarding his earlier confession. On this occasion O’Kane didn’t answer any questions and made no explaination for his earlier confession, other than to say he was under the influence of alcohol and prescription medication.
Mr Steer said that after a report was submitted to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in 2009, a year later a direction of ‘no prosecution’ was made.
In September 2012, O’Kane contacted police again and stated he wished to be re-interviewed. He was interviewed in Antrim Serious Crime Suite the following month and again made admissions to a series of IRA-related incidents.
The prosecutor said that on this occasion O’Kane “expressed remorse ... and a desire to admit the offences”.
Derry man also told police he had watched a TV programme which featured the mother of a murder victim which had contributed to him coming forward.
O’Kane subsequently pleaded guilty to five terrorist offences and was handed a 10-year sentence for his involvement.
He admitted assisting offenders in respect of the January 1993 murder of 21-year old Catholic policeman Michael Ferguson, who was shot in the head as he stood outside the city’s Dunnes stores.
O’Kane said he saw the gunman run down the street after the shooting, during which he touched a car with an ungloved hand. He said he told his OC what had happened, and was then ordered to go to the driver and tell him to wash his car to ensure there was no forensic evidence that could be attributed to the gunman.
O’Kane also admitted two separate charges of doing an act with intent to cause an explosion likely to endangerlife or cause serious damage.
In the first incident in October 1993, O’Kane admitted being part of an IRA unit that attacked a police patrol in the Fanad Drive area of the city. He said he carried a metal stand to the scene to support the ‘doodlebug’ mortar which was then fired at a police vehicle. In this incident, the mortar richocheted off the Land Rover and there were no injuries.
O’Kane also admitted placing a bomb on the windowsill of an Assistant Chief Constable who lived in Prehen in February 1994. The detonator exploded but the main charge failed to go off, and no-one was injured as the family was on holiday at the time. On this occasion, O’Kane telephoned a bomb warning to the Samaritans.
In addition, O’Kane admitted causing an explosion with intent to endanger life, and this charge was in relation to a trip wire bomb which was placed in the fence where the army were known to access the railway line from Ebrington Barracks in December 1993. The device exploded and injured two soldiers, one of whom suffered perforated eardrums.
He also confessed to being part of an IRA team which placed a bomb on the jetty at the Fort George Army Base in May 1994.
O’Kane admitted driving a boat which was taken from Foyle and Rescue Service and which was used to transport a bomb left on the jetty. O’Kane described the device as a ‘lunchbox bomb’ and when it exploded, it injured two soldiers – one of whom is now registered blind as a result.
The court heard that prior to 2007 O’Kane had a good working record which included a senior position as an IT manager. However in 2007 his marriage broke down and his mental health deteriorated, and medical evidence supports the fact he has a ‘dissocial personality disorder.’
Defence barrister Mark Mulholland QC pointed out that “this offending would never have come before the court had he not made full admissions” and added that the PPS had “closed the files” on the cases.
Saying that the remorse his client felt was genuine, Mr Mulholland said that O’Kane “cut any links with the Provisional IRA” years ago.
Sentencing O’Kane, Judge Kerr acknowledged O’Kane remorse and “repeated confessions” and said he accepted that the offences “took place 20 years ago when he was a young man.”
Judge Kerr did, however, brand the offences as “terrorist in nature” and noted the “serious and permanent injuries” caused to the targets.
After he was handed a 10-year sentence, O’Kane was remanded back into custody and was led from the dock in handcuffs.