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Murder accused DNA 'in cigarette butt'

A cigarette butt found at the scene of a policeman's murder in Northern Ireland almost 30 years ago carries the DNA of the man accused of the shooting, a court heard today.

Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve Constable John Proctor, 25, was gunned down by the IRA in the car park of the Mid Ulster Hospital in Magherafelt, Co Londonderry, after visiting his wife June, who had just given birth to their baby son John.

His wife was waving to him from her bedside window when the father of two from nearby Upperlands was ambushed on September 14, 1981.

Seamus Martin Kearney, 54, appeared in Derry Magistrates' Court today, accused of the historic murder.

The defendant, from Gorteade Road in Swatragh, Co Londonderry, denies the charge and an additional charge of possessing an Armalite AR 15 rifle on the same date.

A detective sergeant told District Judge Barney McElholm that a DNA sample found on the discarded butt matched the DNA profile of Kearney.

"On July 19, 2010 the defendant was arrested under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act and questioned about his knowledge of the murder," the witness said.

"He made no comment throughout the interview and he was released unconditionally after providing a specimen for DNA sampling.

"This was DNA matched with an item taken from the murder scene and it was found to be a match. The item was a cigarette butt which was found among 13 spent rifle cases.

"At 20.05 on September 27 of this year he was charged with the murder of John Proctor."

The detective told the judge that after the shooting the murder gang escaped in a hijacked white Ford Escort RS2000.

He said he opposed the defendant being granted bail on the grounds that witnesses could be intimidated and because he believed Kearney would flee the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland.

"It is an historic investigation," he said.

"Witness statements were taken from people in the area at the time and throughout that investigation it was made clear that witnesses had been intimidated.

"They told the police they were too fearful to cooperate with the police investigation. I believe this situation may arise again if the defendant is granted bail."

The police witness said that 10 months after the murder of Mr Proctor, the defendant was arrested at the scene of "another attempted murder where he was arrested by the security forces".

Applying for bail, defence solicitor Stephen Atherton said his client "categorically denies both charges".

Mr Atherton said the defendant "has a record but he has not come to any adverse police attention within the last 13 years."

He added: "He is deeply rooted and involved in the local community. He has been married for 14 years and is a house husband. His wife is the principal of the local primary school and they have one child and home and two at university".

The defence solicitor described the police case against the defendant as weak.

"The cigarette butt was found two days after the offence in a heavily populated public area," he said.

"No forensic tent was ever erected at the scene. Identification statements made in 1981 cannot be safely relied on to identify anyone."

He said there was no prospect of interference with witnesses nor of the defendant fleeing the jurisdiction and said adequate sureties were available to the court for bail.

Judge McElholm said it was "hard to conceive of anything more cruel and tragic than a man who has visited his wife and baby son being murdered in such a heartless fashion".

He said while the circumstances of the murder "nauseated every right thinking person", that was not the criterion he had to apply in terms of granting bail.

The defendant was released on his own bail of £5,000 and with two sureties, each of £5,000, to appear in court in Magherafelt on November 24.

As part of his bail conditions he was ordered to surrender his passport and to report three times each week to the police. He was further ordered not to have any direct or indirect contact with witnesses in the case.

Hours before he was murdered, Mr Proctor had been a pallbearer at the funeral of a UDR soldier friend gunned down, also by the IRA, in the neighbouring village of Maghera two days earlier.