Derry man pleads guilty to IRA offences

O'Kane pictured at an earlier court appearance
O'Kane pictured at an earlier court appearance

A Derry man has pleaded guilty to five terrorist offences relating to bomb attacks against security force members and impeding the arrest of the IRA killers of a Catholic policeman.

Christopher Paul O’Kane (42), of Woodland Avenue, Derry, was due to stand trial today at Belfast Crown Court on a total of 17 Provisional IRA related terrorist offences, including an attempt to murder a senior RUC officer over two decades ago.

But in a dramatic development, defence counsel Mark Mulholland told Judge Gordon Kerr QC: “There is an application to have the accused re-arraigned on several of the counts on the bill of indictment.

“I have a further application, which may be a somewhat unusual procedure, and that is to request that the accused’s pleas of guilty be entered, not by him, but by myself to the court on his behalf.’’

Judge Kerr QC replied: “I believe that the guilty pleas must be entered by the person himself. It is important to the public that there is an acknowledgment of his guilt.’’

Standing in the dock dressed in a green coat with arms folded throughout the proceedings, O’Kane replied “guilty’’ when the five terror charges were put to him.

He pleaded guilty to: Assisting offenders in the murder of Constable Michael Ferguson who was shot dead by the IRA in Derry’s Shipquay Street while on foot patrol on January 23, 1993. O’Kane accpeted that he impeded the apprehension of the killers by “taking steps to ensure that no finger or palm prints had been left by that person on a vehicle, which he believed he had touched immediately after the commission of the offence’’; firing a Mark 16 horizontal mortar bomb at a police vehicle in Fanad Drive, Derry on October 5, 1993 which was likely to endanger life or damage property; planting a bomb at the railway line at Ebrington Barracks on December 14, 1993, which was likely to endanger life or damage property; placing a bomb on the window sill at Dunwood Park, Prehen on February 3, 1994 which was the then home of RUC Assistant Chief Constable Maurice Johnston who was in charge of police in North Region at the time and planting a bomb at the boat jetty at Fort George army base in Derry which was likely to endanger life or damage property.

Prosecution lawyer Robin Steer asked that the remaining 12 charges, which included collecting information for terrorists, being a member of the Provisional IRA, five counts of attempted murder, false imprisonment and causing explosions “be left on the books and not to be proceeded without the leave of this Court or the Court of Appeal.’’

Defence counsel Mark Mulholland QC said he was making no request for a probation report to be prepared ahead of sentence.

Judge Kerr QC adjourned sentencing O’Kane until Wednesday, December 16 and remanded the accused into custody.

However, a short time later O’Kane was granted bail for 24 hours by Judge Kerr QC and has to surrender himself to prison staff at Bishop Street Courthouse in Derry tomorrow, Friday, December 4, 2015.

A previous court heard that the defendant walked into Strand Road PSNI station in Derry in October 2012 and allegedly admitted at police interviews that he planted the bomb at ACC Maurice Johnston’s family home.

It was alleged in court at the time that O’Kane admitted to his involvement in the murder of 21-year-old RUC Constable Michael Ferguson in Derry.

A detective constable told the court that O’Kane gave police very detailed information about the murder of the Catholic officer.

It was also claimed that the defendant admitted to officers that he was a member of the Provisional IRA between January 1991 and December 1993.