appeal rejected | 

Shane Whitla: Man accused of luring victim to his ‘execution’ to be released from custody

Prosecutors have claimed he was “executed” over a suspected drug debt to a notorious crime gang known as ‘The Firm’

Victim Shane Whitla

Alan ErwinBelfast Telegraph

A man who allegedly lured murder victim Shane Whitla to his “execution” in Lurgan is to be released from custody, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Rooney rejected a Public Prosecution Service (PPS) appeal against a magistrate's decision to grant bail to 25-year-old Kevin Conway.

Conway, of Deeny Drive in Lurgan, is among three men charged with Mr Whitla’s murder.

The victim, a 39-year-old father of four, was gunned down in an alleyway off Woodville Street in the Co Armagh town on January 12 this year.

Prosecutors have claimed he was “executed” over a suspected drug debt to a notorious crime gang known as ‘The Firm’.

In a case based on circumstantial CCTV, telephone and forensic evidence, Crown lawyers contend that co-accused Joshua Cotter, 29, and Jake O’Brien, 27, are the two unidentified men seen on footage following Mr Whitla into the alleyway.

He was shot in the leg and in the back through to his throat before the suspected killers re-emerged and fled a minute later.

The weapon used to carry out the attack has not been recovered.

Cotter, with an address at Madrid Street in Belfast, was released from custody last week.

But the PPS mounted a further challenge after Craigavon Magistrates’ Court decided on Friday that Conway should also be bailed.

Mr Justice Rooney was told he allegedly telephoned Mr Whitla four times before the victim left his home to go to the scene of his death.

A mobile phone linked to Conway was also in contact with O’Brien, of Church Walk in Lurgan, before and after the killing, according to detectives.

Prosecution counsel Adrian Higgins said: “Police believe Kevin Conway set up the victim to be murdered by phoning and instructing him to go to the place where he ultimately met his killers.

“This belief is based on the telephone evidence and proximity to the murder.”

With the shooting being linked to organised crime, the court also heard there is now a “credible” threat against Conway.

Aaron Thompson, defending, argued that the case against his client is limited to four suspicious alleged phone calls to Mr Whitla.

Following submissions Mr Justice Rooney ruled: “I will grant bail (and) not allow the appeal.”

Ordering Conway to lodge a £4,000 cash surety as part of the release conditions, the judge added: “I will review the case in four weeks time to see if there is any additional evidence police have come up with.”

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