Northern Ireland news

Man (29) arrested by police investigating Shane Whitla murder in Lurgan is released on bail

Shane Whitla was shot dead in Lurgan last Thursday night

A 29-year-old man arrested by police investigating the murder of Shane Whitla in Lurgan has been released on bail to allow for further enquiries.

Police had been granted extra time to question the  suspect.

Extending the detention time to 11.40am on Monday, District Judge Eamon King said it was clear "there are multiple crime scenes, there are an extensive number of searches in respect of potential evidence and for that reason, I think it’s sensible and prudent that we make the extension".

Lisburn Magistrates Court heard how Mr Whitla (39) had been found lying in Lord Lurgan Park on Thursday night with a puncture wound to his throat.

A detective told the court that ambulance staff had alerted PSNI for assistance and with police at the scene first, they began CPR until paramedics arrived.

Mr Whitla was pronounced dead 45 minutes later and the officer said that a post mortem examination established that he had died as a result of a "bullet wound to the chest".

The officer revealed that police have established three scenes for investigation - the suspect's home, the address where he was arrested and the murder scene. He further revealed that investigators are trawling through CCTV footage to establish the movements of the suspect whose phone had been seized. His clothing is also being forensically examined for the presence of cartridge discharge residue which can indicate whether a person has been close to a gun being fired and officers are also seeking to identify the suspect’s car and trace its movements too.

Meanwhile, officers are also conducting more than 200 house to house enquiries and while they already have some statements, they are seeking to take statements from more than 14 potential witnesses.

The detective said police were seeking the maximum 36 hour extension to allow time for those enquiries to be conducted and for the return of forensic findings which found then be out to the 29-year-old suspect during interviews.

"Interviews are conducted in phases," explained the officer, "and at the moment we are at phase one".

In cross examination, defence solicitor Peter Corrigan put to the officer that at the moment, there was neither a forensic link nor witness evidence to connect his client to the killing so “you have no evidence whatsoever linking him to this murder.”

"I can’t say that,” replied the officer explaining “there is a senior investigating officer who is controlling all information and evidence coming into the enquiry and that evidence and information is fed to me in phases so I can only say I am not in possession of it. I can’t say that it doesn’t exist."

He agreed that the suspect had voluntarily given blood samples and his fingerprints which would be used “for comparison purposes throughout the enquiry".

While Mr Corrigan suggested that a shorter than maximum extension would be appropriate and the police could seek a further extension if required, DJ King said given the nature of the “live and ongoing investigations,” he was allowing an extra 36 hours.

It has been revealed, meanwhile, that a PSNI officer who arrived at the scene last Thursday night is to undergo surgery after seriously injuring his hand while attempting to reach Mr Whitla. It is understood the officer injured his hand on a spike while climbing a fence to enter Lord Lurgan Park, and remains in hospital.

Northern Ireland news