THE gunman who murdered journalist Lyra McKee may have left vital DNA clues on the weapon when he was clearing jammed rounds.
A handgun, recovered in a search of 38 acres of land in Derry city last weekend, has now been identified as the weapon used to murder the 29-year-old.
Ms McKee was covering clashes between police and dissident republican supporters in the Creggan part of the city in April last year.
Det Supt Jason Murphy, of the PSNI serious crime branch, said last night that the gun had jammed as it was being fired and video footage showed that the gunman tried several times to eject the jammed rounds.
“For that reason, I have asked scientists to extend their forensic examination beyond the outside of the gun and forensically examine the inside mechanisms of it to establish whether the gunman, in his haste to clear the blockage, may have left forensic traces inside the gun.
“We are using the most advanced DNA technology available and we will exhaust every opportunity to recover forensic evidence”.
He said that work would take some considerable time to complete, particularly because of the intricate examination of the internal mechanisms.
He claimed to already know who were involved and the identity of the gunman, and had asked the scientists to find him the evidence that would enable him to complete the jigsaw of events that he had been building since the night Lyra was murdered.
Forensic tests have been under way all week to establish if the gun – identified as a Hemmerli X-Esse pistol – was the weapon used. A detailed examination of the ammunition and the plastic bags in which they were wrapped is also currently ongoing.
Since April 18 last year, he said, they had been focused on seeking to bring to justice those involved in the murder.
“I am as clear today as I have ever been that the bringing of that gun onto the streets involved a number of senior figures in the New IRA.
“Today’s confirmation is a significant step forward and opens up a new avenue of investigation for my team. We will be relentless in pursuing opportunities to bring to justice every person, who was involved in the chain of events that led to the gunman indiscriminately firing four shots.”
He said those shots were fired intentionally towards police Land Rovers, placing many officers at risk.
“The presence of bystanders like Lyra, who were watching the unfolding events, was an inconvenience to the terrorists but the gunman clearly placed no importance on that.
“Any reasonable assessment must be that for the New IRA, the community were, and continue to be, expendable collateral damage.
“Lyra’s murder was not an accident – it was an inevitable and entirely predictable result of terrorist violence.”
The police investigation also extends to finding the person responsible for the disappearance of the weapon and who transported the gun to Ballymagroarty where the cache was found with a fully primed bomb, hidden close to the back gardens of a housing estate and to a children’s play den.
“The disregard shown by the New IRA is staggering but completely unsurprising. They continue to put their own agenda above the rights of local communities to live in peace”.
He said he had the unenviable task of telling Lyra’s family and her partner, Sara, that the gun had been removed from the terrorists’ control.
“One positive forensic result, coupled with the extensive evidence we have already gathered, will have significant consequences for the New IRA,” he added.