Northern Ireland

Man charged over car linked to shooting of PSNI Detective John Caldwell denied bail

North Belfast man is charged with preparation of terrorist acts in connection with Omagh attack

Detective Chief Superintendent John Caldwell spent several weeks in intensive care after he was shot by dissident republicans in February
Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell spent several weeks in intensive care after he was shot in February. PICTURE: BRIAN LAWLESS (Brian Lawless/PA)

A man accused of transporting one of the cars used in the plot to assassinate a senior PSNI detective has failed in a High Court bid to be released from custody.

James Gerard McSorley was refused bail amid claims he drove the vehicle from Belfast to Co Tyrone on the day Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell was shot on February 22 in Omagh.

Mr Justice O’Hara rejected defence submissions that the case against the 58-year-old is “exceptionally tenuous”.

Based on the alleged circumstances he declared: “The attempt to murder DCI Caldwell was one of the most sinister events in 2023.

“Not just because it was an attack on a senior police officer, but because of the extraordinary coalition of those involved: between dissident republicans and others with no connection to republicanism who gathered together to formulate an attack which very nearly succeeded in killing a man.”

DCI Caldwell was shot repeatedly in front of his son just after he finished coaching a youth football team at sports facilities.The gunmen made their getaway in a Ford Fiesta discovered on fire later that night.

Although the New IRA claimed responsibility for the shooting, police believe other criminal factions assisted in targeting someone regarded as a joint enemy.

McSorley, of Chichester Mews in north Belfast, denies a charge of preparation of terrorist acts in connection with the attack.

Detectives believe three cars were used in the operation, including a second Ford Fiesta transported to Omagh for an unattributed role in the build-up to the shooting.

McSorley allegedly transported that vehicle from Belfast to Tamnamore Roundabout, near Dungannon.

He was then allegedly picked up and driven back to the city by his co-accused, 47-year-old Tony Slevin, of Derryloughan Avenue in Coalisland, Co Tyrone.

Belfast High Court. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY (Liam McBurney/PA)

Seven other men have been charged with attempting to murder DCI Caldwell, who spent nearly two months recovering in hospital.

According to the prosecution, McSorley was in telephone communication with another unnamed suspect who gave him instructions to take the second Ford Fiesta to Co Tyrone.

CCTV and mobile phone evidence link him to the journey, it is claimed.

McSorley made no comment during police interviews but provided a pre-prepared statement denying any involvement in the attack.

Opposing his bid to be released from custody, a Crown lawyer provided new details of an alleged meeting he had with the occupants of the first Ford Fiesta at a location in north Belfast on the night before the shooting.

“This information has just come to light,” she said.

“The contemporaneous exiting by McSorley’s vehicle and Fiesta One negates any innocent explanation or coincidence.”

Defence counsel Sean Devine urged the court to be wary of the new information, adding that the accused moved about that area in his line of work.

He also argued that the second Ford Fiesta’s alleged role in the murder plot remains undefined.

“There is a rather ambiguous assertion of some type of involvement, but because of the very nebulous nature of the allegations it is difficult to get our teeth into what the authorities are actually saying,” Mr Devine submitted.

Despite further issues about the health of members of McSorley’s family, his application for bail was denied.

Mr Justice O’Hara stated: “The information before me suggests there is a case against him which could not properly be described as exceptionally tenuous.”