A man convicted of storing the weapon that was used to murder queer journalist Lyra McKee has been jailed for seven years. 29 year-old Niall Sheerin pleaded guilty to possession of a pistol and ammunition with intent to enable another person to endanger life earlier in 2022, and he received his sentencing on Wednesday, September 14.
The gun, a Hammerli X-Esse .22 pistol, alongside bullets and spent ammunition magazine, was discovered wrapped in plastic bags and buried in a field in the Ballymagroarty area of Derry in 2020. Ballistics tests found that the weapon had been used in five shootings in the city within the previous 21 months, including the event that killed Lyra McKee on April 18, 2019.
DNA evidence linked the weapon to Sheerin, who admitted to having it in his possession on dates unknown between September 11, 2018 and June 6, 2020. At an earlier hearing, the man’s defence barrister insisted that the Derry-native had no knowledge of how the weapon had been used prior to him storing it for a “short period of time”.
Prosecutors accepted that they could not prove whether the defendant from Tyrconnell Street would have been aware of the pistol’s specific history, and therefore that he could not be sentenced in relation to McKee’s death. However, the court issued its ruling based on the fact that Sheerin had knowingly stored a gun on behalf of the New IRA – the organisation that claimed responsibility for the murder.
At the hearing in Belfast, Justice Stephen Fowler handed down an extended custodial sentence of seven years imprisonment and a further five years on licence. The judge added that the man was an associate of a “serious terrorist gang who posed a danger to the public”.
Speaking outside the court, the late journalist’s sister, Nichola McKee-Corner, urged the person who pulled the trigger to come forward and admit their guilt. “Now the story of the gun has come to an end, but the story of the gunman continues,” she said.
With the reward for information having been doubled to £20,000, McKee-Corner also appealed to anyone with knowledge on the matter to come forward. “Justice isn’t something that stands alone with the police service, justice is the whole business of the community,” she stated.
"Days like this remind us Lyra will never come back" – The sister of journalist Lyra McKee speaks after a man is jailed for having the gun used to kill her in 2019 https://t.co/JuO7tHIZCx pic.twitter.com/SnYDiL3ZHc
— BBC News NI (@BBCNewsNI) September 14, 2022
Addressing reporters, Det Supt Eamonn Corrigan commented: “It’s over three years now since that tragic day, and the pain felt by Lyra’s loved ones is understandably as raw as ever.
“I’m keen to reassure the community that we remain committed to working with them and our partner agencies to stop the corrosive influence of terrorists.”
Lyra KcKee was tragically shot and killed as she observed a group of rioters on Fanad Drive in the Creggan area of Derry in 2019. There has been a total of fifteen arrests made in connection with the crime, with three people having been charged with murder, and four others having been charged with rioting and associated offences.
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