Accused in Shane Whitla murder case bailed after judge heard he's 'subject to 23-hour lock-up'

Shane Whitla (39) was shot dead in Lurgan

Report from Craigavon Magistrate’s Court today: Our client Kevin Conway granted bail despite police objections. PPS to appeal decision to the High Court. Our solicitor Patrick Madden is instructed.

An alleged gangster accused of luring murder victim Shane Whitla to his death has been granted bail after a judge heard he is “subject to 23 hour lock up.”

Despite police objections against Kevin Conway being freed due to concerns District Judge Bernie Kelly said she was satisfied the 25-year-old is a “suitable candidate for bail” as long as he adhered to a package of strict conditions.

“I think what is swaying me is the 23 hour lock up,” she told Craigavon Magistrates Court but a prosecuting lawyer told the judge the PPS will be appealing the decision in the High Court which means that Conway will not be freed.

Conway is one of three men accused of the murder of Mr Whitla.

The other two, charged with both murder and possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life, are 29-year-old Joshua Cotter and Jake O’Brien (27).

Previous courts have heard it is the police “working hypothesis” the trio of alleged killers are “active members” of an organised crime gang known as ‘The Firm’ and that the shooting of Mr Whitla was as a result of a drugs feud over a debt.

According to the police case, Conway called Mr Whitla four times on January 12 this year and it was those calls that caused the 39-year-old father-of-four to go to an alleyway off Woodville Street where he was shot, allegedly by Cotter and O’Brien.

While the police believe they can link Conway to a mobile which was in contact with Mr Whitla before the murder and with O’Brien both before and after the killing, detectives further claim CCTV evidence place O’Brien and Cotter close to the scene.

Meanwhile, forensics tests on “soaking wet clothing” seized from Cotter’s home which he claimed O’Brien gave him, has uncovered a significant amount of “indicative cartridge residue particles,” supporting a contention the clothing was close to a primary source of CDR such as a gun being fired.

In court on Friday, a police officer said there is a “dissident republican threat” against members of The Firm.

He added that a PM1 form, a document of police intelligence of an existing threat against a person, has been served on Conway and the court heard it was that threat which had resulted in the alleged killer being separated from the general prison population and the 23 hour lock down.

Defence counsel Aaron Thompson said that Conway had “imminently triable issues” to contest the case and “it’s no hyperbole to say the trial won’t happen for three or maybe four years” given the size of the complex investigation.

DJ Kelly granted bail and put in place a package of conditions including residence, curfew, tagging, alcohol ban and a ban on him leaving Northern Ireland, however, the PPS told the judge they intended to appeal the decision.

Irish News