THE trial of two men charged with the murder of police constable Stephen Carroll will open this morning (Monday) with evidence that undercover soldiers had been secretly bugging a car belonging to one of the accused for more than a month before the shooting.
However, the court will also be told that potentially key evidence from the tracking device was destroyed while it was held inside a supposedly secure army compound just days after the murder.
Forensic science will also come under the spotlight during the proceedings with a dispute over evidence about gunshot residue forming a central element.
The trial is the latest in a series of high-profile Diplock hearings in recent months focused on paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland.
A judge is to deliver his verdict in the next few weeks on the two men accused of the murders of two soldiers at Massereene army barracks.
Forensic evidence, particularly a new form of DNA was central to the prosecution’s case in the six-week trial which concluded before Christmas.
Meanwhile a mammoth trial is continuing of 14 men facing 97 charges of UVF crimes, including murder, on the word of two brothers who turned loyalist “supergrass”.
Constable Stephen Carroll became the first member of the PSNI to be murdered when he was shot while responding to a 999 call in Craigavon shortly before 10pm on March 9, 2009.
The killing came just 48 hours after the Massereene murders which were claimed by the Real IRA.
Within days the PSNI arrested 17 year-old John Paul Wooton and former Sinn Fein councillor Brendan McConville in connection with the policeman’s murder.
The teenager’s Citroen Saxo car was seized by the PSNI at the same time.
Both men were later charged with murder.
Prosecution lawyers will allege that Wooton’s car was parked 150 yards from the scene of the shooting and had driven off within minutes of the killing.
McConville’s DNA is alleged to have been found on a jacket recovered from the boot of Wooton’s car, which prosecutors claim also contained gun residue from the murder weapon.
However a key part of the trial is expected to centre around McConville’s defence team’s argument that the residue found on the jacket did not come from the murder weapon.
A key prosecution witness, identified only as `M’, is expected to give evidence stating that he saw McConville close to the scene of the shooting shortly before the attack.
Prosecutors are expected to reveal how undercover soldiers from the British army’s Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) had been covertly bugging Wooton’s car for a month before the shooting and had tracked its movements on the night of Constable Carroll’s murder.
Defence lawyers are expected to raise concerns that data tracking the car’s movements three hours after the murder was mysteriously deleted from the device while it was being held in a supposedly secure army base.
The first edition of The Detail revealed that the trial is expected to hear evidence from an undercover member of the SRR unit, identified only as `PIN 8625’.
He will tell the court that two days after Constable Carroll’s murder he was ordered to go to Maydown PSNI station on the outskirts of Derry where the teenager’s car had been taken following his arrest.
`PIN 8625’ recovered the tracking device and brought it back to SRR’s secret base.
He will tell the court that he removed the bug from Wotton’s car and left it on a bench inside a high security area of the base while he went on six days leave.
`PIN 8625’ will tell the court that when he returned he discovered that data from the tracking device, recorded three hours after the shooting, had been mysteriously wiped.
The data relates to its movements from 1am three hours after the shooting until it was seized by police later that day.
In his initial statement to police the undercover soldier claimed that the potentially incriminating evidence contained on the tracking device was allowed to sit unsecured on a bench inside the army base while he went on extended leave.
“I returned to work six days later and discovered that all the data had been wiped off the vehicle tracking device which I had deployed against the Citroen Saxo.”
However when he gave evidence at a pre-trial hearing in May 2011, `PIN 8625’ claimed that only some data from the tracking device had been lost.
“I was asked to look and see if the information was still there, which it wasn’t.
“You were hoping to retrieve the material right up until the car was recovered by the police on 10 March, is that right?” McConville’s solicitor Peter Corrigan asked:
Q: “And were you able to obtain all that?
Q: “You were unable to retrieve it because someone had wiped the device is that correct?”
Q: “Who wiped it?
A: “I don’t know.’’
Q: “Were you concerned that the device had been wiped?
A: “It was unfortunate the device had been wiped but the details covering the event had been retrieved.’’
Q: “So is it your evidence, is it, that all information up until the vehicle was taken by police was retrieved?
A: “The dates are on the download, I can’t remember. The last download would give you the date and time of the last fix.’’
Q: ``You were aware that there was a gap weren’t you?
Q: ``You were concerned about the gap naturally’’
A: ``It was unfortunate.’’
Q: ``Because potentially relevant evidence was lost?’’
Confirming how his army superiors had launched an inquiry in a bid to discover who had been responsible for destroying the evidence, he was asked:
Q: ``There was an investigation wasn’t there in to who was responsible for wiping the data?’’
A: ``People wanted to know why the data was erased, yes.’’
Q: ``Your superiors were concerned?’’
A: ``They looked in to the reasons why the data had been erased.’’
The court also heard evidence from a weapons’ contractor, identified only as witness `J’, who had supplied the device used to track Wooton’s car.
Witness `J’ was cross-examined over `PIN 8625’s assertion that the tracking device could have been wiped by accident?
Q: ``There’s a set procedure isn’t there for retrieving information from the device, isn’t that correct?
A: ``Yes, that’s correct.’’
Q: ``There is also a set procedure for deleting information from the device, isn’t that correct?
A. ``Yes. that’s correct.’’
Q: ``And is it fair to say that these procedures are completely different?
``The two procedures are completely different.’’
The trial is expected to last two months.