Monday 27 January 2020

Wootton saw police men as targets

David Young

A TEENAGER with a reputation for trouble, John Paul Wootton believed anybody wearing a police uniform was a murder target.

"A cop's a cop," he coldly declared when challenged by a friend that police officers did not deserve to die.

The judge described that exchange about another policeman, two weeks before he murdered Constable Stephen Carroll, as proof of the "evil and deluded" thinking of Wootton and his dissident republican cohorts.

Then 17, he had heard his friend was dating that policeman's daughter and was demanding he revealed his address.

"I told him he didn't deserve to be shot because he was a cop," the un-named witness told the court. "That's the sort of nonsense he would talk."

The unemployed youth, who grew up in the peace process era and knew little of the Troubles, was already under Army surveillance when he killed Con Carroll.

A military tracking device had been secretly attached to his Citroen Saxo in the period prior to the shooting - a clear indication he was on the watch list.

Data from the bug was not able to prevent the policeman's shooting but it placed one of the prime suspects at the scene and proved he drove off just ten minutes after the fatal shot was fired.

Wootton was arrested within hours of the attack.

He refused to speak when first quizzed by detectives and remained obstinately silent through the course of 36 further police interviews.

When it came to his trial, Wootton, by then 20 and sporting a patchy ginger beard - the consequence of a no-wash protest inside Maghaberry jail - again declined to give his version of events when afforded his right to give evidence.

It was a disposition at odds with his customary demeanour in and around the republican Drumbeg estate in Craigavon.

"He was a bit of a mouth," said one source. "Had a reputation as a real troublemaker. When trouble flared in Drumbeg, he was usually in the middle of it. A usual suspect at riots."

The product of a broken home, Wootton was active in dissident republicanism from a young age.

But with youth came naivety about covering his tracks.

Pictures recovered from a mobile phone showed him dressed in paramilitary regalia and taking part in a so-called colour party.

A notepad found in his beloved gold Saxo revealed the minutes he had taken of dissident republican meetings - they suggested the staging of colour parties was a favourite pursuit.

During the trial, his 39-year-old mother Sharon Wootton, who he lived with in the Collingdale area of Lurgan, pleaded guilty to obstructing the police investigation into the murder by removing computer equipment from their home.

The hard drive provided further evidence of her son's illegal activities.

A document related to a suspected terrorist support organisation - Craigavon Republican Youth - was recovered.

The group's stated aim was to "assist the full removal of British occupation from Ireland and co-operate with all republican armies".

The teenager clearly was prepared to extend his co-operation to murder.

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