Hunt goes on for Massereene soldiers' killers


Police have launched a fresh bid to catch the gunmen who killed two soldiers in Northern Ireland, as a terminally ill man convicted of trying to torch their getaway car was told he must serve a minimum of 25 years in jail.

Brian Shivers, 46, from Magherafelt, Co Londonderry, who was part of the Real IRA gang that murdered Sappers Patrick Azimkar, 21, and Mark Quinsey, 23, outside the Massereene military barracks, is suffering from cystic fibrosis and has an estimated four to five years to live.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment last month and today at Belfast Crown Court Mr Justice Anthony Hart told him he would have to spend at least 25 years in prison before he could be considered for release.

Sapper Quinsey, from Birmingham, and Sapper Azimkar, from London, both serving with 38 Engineer Regiment, were about to leave for a tour in Afghanistan in March 2009 when they were gunned down by dissident republicans opposed to the Good Friday peace deal.

The judge said: "I am satisfied that appropriate arrangements are being put in place to provide the necessary medical care which Shivers will require in the future.

"Those involved in this very grave crime must receive appropriate punishment."

He said Shivers was deemed to be a secondary party to the killings, responsible for making a failed effort to burn out the getaway car.

But he added: "Whilst he played a lesser role than the gunmen and the driver of the attack car, by being at Ranaghan Road and setting fire to the car, he played a prominent and essential role in this carefully planned and ruthlessly executed crime."

The judge quoted from victim impact statements presented to the court by the families of the murdered soldiers.

Sapper Quinsey's mother, Pamela, said: "A mother thinks she will hold her child's hand for the rest of her life. Now my hand is empty and lost."

Sapper Azimkar's mother, Geraldine, said: "We have all changed, all aged, our hearts and souls are no longer light but weighed down with sorrow and loss."

The English soldiers were about to begin a tour of duty in Afghanistan when they were gunned down in the attack at their base in Co Antrim.

Sapper Quinsey, from Birmingham, and Sapper Azimkar, from London, were dressed in their desert fatigues and were within hours of leaving the base.

They were collecting pizzas at the front gate when they came under fire from two gunmen armed with assault rifles.

Two other soldiers and two pizza delivery drivers were injured in the attack.

Outside court today, senior investigating officer Detective Inspector Justyn Galloway said police were continuing to hunt for the rest of the murder gang.

He released a recording of a phone call made by the killers shortly after the attack and appealed for the public's help in tracking them down.

"The investigation is continuing because it is our duty to bring as many of those individuals who were involved in this atrocity before the court," he said.

"Following the conclusion of the trial last month, when the inadvertently recorded call was used as evidence, we are now making the recording available in a public attempt to identify the voices on it.

"The families have conducted themselves with the utmost dignity over the past three years. Anyone who listens to what the boys' mothers have said and who knows anything about the murders or can identify the voices on the phone recording should do the right thing and talk to police."

Shivers' co-accused, high-profile republican Colin Duffy, 44, from Lurgan, Co Armagh, was acquitted of the murder charges in the non-jury trial at Antrim Crown Court.

At a pre-tariff hearing for Shivers last week, a prosecution lawyer urged Mr Justice Hart to impose a term at the higher end of the scale, insisting there were many aggravating factors, including the fact that the murders were politically-motivated acts of terrorism.

DNA on matchsticks found in the partially burnt-out Vauxhall Cavalier getaway car used in the ambush and abandoned eight miles away proved Shivers' undoing at his trial.

Delivering his reserved judgment in January after a six-week trial, Mr Justice Hart said he was satisfied that he had tried to set the car alight.

The judge has noted that the Crown accepted that Shivers was a secondary party to the murders, but at the pre-tariff hearing he said that would not have a significant influence on the length of term he imposed.

Shivers wore dark jeans and a grey striped jumper for today's hearing.

Previously clean-shaven, he wore a beard, and smiled and waved to relatives in the court.

He remained silent, with his arms folded, as the judge detailed the reasons for the jail term.

Mr Justice Hart said the courts would not ignore when a convicted person had a serious medical condition, but he referred to a letter from health service officials which confirmed that they believe Shivers can receive the medical treatment he requires while behind bars.

Staff at Maghaberry Prison are also to receive additional training in dealing with cystic fibrosis.

Mr Justice Hart said that if the dissident republican's condition worsened, it would be a matter for the prison authorities and the Minister for Justice.

The judge added: "Those involved in the attack were determined to kill as many soldiers and others as they could."

He cited the injuries and trauma suffered by those at the scene and said some of the wounded and murdered had been fired on as they lay injured on the ground.

"This was an extremely grave crime, and there is no dispute that it was a terrorist attack.

"That was confirmed, if it needed to be, by the claim of responsibility on behalf of the Real IRA, and the use of the two weapons involved in other terrorist attacks."

He said of Shivers: "Those who carry out such heinous crimes would not be able to do so without the assistance of others who play a vital part in helping the main participants to escape afterwards, and conceal or destroy evidence."

Shivers was told he would be allowed to speak to relatives, who made thumbs-up signs towards the dissident republican, before he was handcuffed and taken down.