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File photo. Photocall Ireland
Courts

Man (73) arrested in connection with murder of RUC constable in 1975 appears before High Court

Seamus Christopher O’Kane is wanted in Northern Ireland on four offences as part of an investigation into the murder of Constable Robert John McPherson.

LAST UPDATE | 12 Jun

A 73-YEAR-OLD man who is wanted in Northern Ireland on firearms and explosive charges linked to the murder of a RUC officer in Co Derry almost 50 years ago has appeared before the High Court today on foot of an extradition warrant.

The High Court heard today that the murdered officer’s gun was allegedly recovered from a farmhouse where Seamus Christopher O’Kane and two others were discovered hiding out in 1976.

O’Kane, of Scalestown, Dunshaughlin in Co Meath but who is originally from Garvagh in Co Derry, is wanted by authorities in Northern Ireland on four offences as part of an investigation into the murder of 25-year-old Constable Robert John McPherson in Co Derry on 26 July 1975 and the attempted murder of a colleague.

O’Kane was arrested by detectives from the Garda Extradition Unit today following the endorsement of a Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TaCA) Warrant as part of a joint operation with the PSNI.

The extradition warrant states that on 5 May 1976, O’Kane and others escaped from custody at the Maze prison in Northern Ireland prior to a decision being made to prosecute him for the four offences.

Outlining the charges facing O’Kane before Mr Justice Patrick McGrath at the High Court today, Detective Garda Tony Keane of the Garda Extradition Unit said the warrant relates to the respondent allegedly committing four offences on 16 February 1976 at Brockaghboy in Garvagh.

The extradition warrant states that a military observation team identified suspicious activity at a farmhouse owned by a retired farmer.

The warrant also states that officers observed three males approaching the farmhouse and that one of the males was carrying a backpack. Officers called to the farmhouse and the householder told officers that he was alone in the property.

The warrant continues that a search of the property and surrounding outhouses was conducted. During the search, explosive substances, firearms and ammunition were recovered.

This included two electric detonators, two improvised pressure mat switches, two Walther pistols, one Browning pistol, a 0.22 rifle, a Remington shotgun and 104 rounds of ammunition.

“Seamus Christopher O’Kane and two other males were found hiding in an upstairs bedroom in the property and were subsequently arrested,” the warrant reads.

The warrant further stated that forensic examinations confirmed that the electric detonators recovered from the property at Brockaghboy, Garvagh were explosive blasting accessories, used to initiate charges of high explosive.

The pressure mat switches were of a type used in the electrical firing circuits of “booby-trap” explosive devices. Pressure on the mat by an unsuspecting person completed the electrical circuit and fired the detonator, thereby initiating an explosive charge.

The warrant continues that O’Kane was interviewed on 17 February 1976, where he made a full admission to possessing the explosive substances, firearms and ammunition recovered from the property at Brockaghboy in Garvagh.

The two males found with O’Kane at the property were interviewed. The warrant reads that both also made admissions to possessing the explosive substances, firearms and ammunition. O’Kane and the other males stated that the householder had no knowledge of the materials found.

A warrant for O’Kane’s arrest, for the offence of escape from custody, issued on 7 May 1976, while a decision was taken to prosecute him for the four offences the following month on 8 June.

Det Gda Keane told John Kerr BL, for the Minister for Justice, that he was on duty this morning and called to O’Kane’s address at Scalestown, Dunshaughlin in Co Meath at 7.16am, where he arrested the respondent on foot of the warrant and cautioned him.

Det Gda Keane said he introduced himself to O’Kane and showed him his ID card. He said that O’Kane agreed that his name was Seamus Christopher O’Kane. The respondent told the detective that he was born in Garvagh in Co Derry and that he was an Irish national.

O’Kane told Det Gda Kane that he held an Irish passport and produced it.

Det Gda Keane said he informed the respondent that the UK had previously arrested him on foot of a warrant and cautioned him.

The officer gave O’Kane a copy of the warrant for his arrest, made under a Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TaCA) as part of a joint operation with the PSNI.

The detective said he also informed O’Kane of his right to consent to his surrender to the issuing state, namely Northern Ireland and his right to be provided with legal advice.

Det Gda Keane said he asked O’Kane whether he knew what these offences were about and that the respondent had replied “no”.

O’Kane was then conveyed to Navan Garda Station.

Det Gda Keane said he was satisfied that the person named on the warrant was the person he arrested.

The detective told Kerr that he was prepared to consent to bail subject to certain conditions if the court saw fit.

Under cross-examination, Det Gda Keane told John Berry BL, for the respondent, it was alleged that these offences from 16 February 1976 were linked with another incident, which was alleged to have taken place on 26 July 1975.

Constable McPherson was from Leck, outside Coleraine in Co Derry. He was shot dead in an INLA ambush in Dungiven Main Street around midday on 26 July 1975.

He was hit by a single shot when he and a colleague were ambushed as they investigated a report of a suspect car. His fellow officer was hit multiple times but survived.

Berry put it to the detective that evidence in relation to the possession of the firearms was allegedly used to tie O’Kane to the murder of Constable McPherson. The detective said he was not sure how the two events were tied.

In reply, Berry said that a firearm taken from the officer in 1975 was allegedly found at the scene at Brockaghboy in Garvagh in 1976.

Berry said his client was sought for extradition to Northern Ireland in 1976 but it was refused by the Supreme Court in 1978. He said O’Kane had been living openly in the Meath area.

O’Kane was granted bail on condition that he reside at Scalestown in Dunshaughlin, that he sign on three times a week at Ashbourne Garda Station, that he must obey a daily curfew of 9am to 9pm, provide a mobile phone number to gardai which he must carry at all times and not apply for any duplicate passport or travel documents.

Mr Justice McGrath fixed 19 June as the date for the next hearing of the extradition case.

The first offence alleges that O’Kane unlawfully and meticulously had in his possession or under his control certain explosive substances, namely two electric detonators and two improvised pressure mat switches, with intent by means thereof to endanger life or cause serious injury to property in the UK or to enable any other person by means thereof to endanger life or cause serious injury to property in the UK, contrary to Section 3(1)(b) of the Explosive Substances Act 1883.

It is also alleged that O’Kane knowingly had in his possession or under his control certain explosive substances, namely two electric detonators and two improvised pressure mat switches, under such circumstances as to give rise to a reasonable suspicion that he did not have them in his possession or under his control for a lawful object, contrary to Section 4(1) of the same act on the same occasion.

It is further alleged that O’Kane had in his possession firearms and ammunition, namely two Walther pistols, one Browning pistol, a 0.22 rifle, a Remington shotgun and a quantity of ammunition, with intent by means thereof to endanger life or cause serious injury to property or to enable any other person by means thereof to endanger life or cause serious injury to property, contrary to Section 14 of the Firearms Act (Northern Ireland) 1969 on the same occasion.

Finally, it is alleged that O’Kane had in his possession firearms and ammunition, namely two Walther pistols, one Browning pistol, a 0.22 rifle, a Remington shotgun and a quantity of of ammunition, under such circumstances as to give rise to a reasonable suspicion that he did not have in his possession for a lawful object, contrary to section 19A of the Firearms Act (Northern Ireland) 1969.

The PSNI said a decision to prosecute the three men was issued by Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service ahead to the commencement of the Northern Ireland (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023 on 1 May.

Author
Alison O'Riordan