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Calls for case against Shane Whitla murder accused to be discontinued over evidence revelation

A defence solicitor for a man accused of shooting dead Lurgan father-of-four Shane Whitla says the two major pieces of evidence allegedly linking his client to the killing are flawed.

Jake O’Brien, who stands accused of murdering Mr Whitla on the evening on January 12, did not appear at Craigavon Magistrates’ Court for the brief hearing on Friday morning.

However, the 27-year-old’s defence counsel urged the prosecution “to come back with a robust evaluation of the evidence as it stands now”.

It comes after he raised issues, he described as “really concerning”, around the validity of CDR and CCTV evidence.

“Jake O’Brien was charged with this offence in January. There was a connection hearing that the investigating officer gave evidence [stating there was] significant CDR evidence linking him to the murder. This was the whole foundation stone of the prosecution case…CDR on one side and CCTV were the two strands being relied on for connection. Jake O’Brien was connected primarily on these two pieces of evidence.

“It has transpired, and it’s really concerning, that…the defence received notification, unprecedented in my experience, that they [the prosecution] were wrong.”

The defence solicitor said the PSNI were advised “that it’s unlikely that the residues detected on the suspect’s clothing are linked to either the cartridge cases or the [Mr Whitla’s] clothing.

“So, now we have no CDR evidence linking the defendant which was a significant plank to the prosecution case.”

Addressing the CCTV footage allegedly linking O’Brien to the case, the defence solicitor added: “The prosecution’s case was that they were in possession of CCTV evidence that linked the defendant, Jake O’Brien, to the murder scene. It was made clear that there was CCTV identifying this.

“We went to a police station in Derry to view the CCTV and there is absolutely no CCTV linking Jake O’Brien. As we stand, there is no evidence and really it has put the whole connection process into disrepute….at its best, the court was misinformed of the evidence against the defendant, Jake O’Brien.

“We are very anxious for this matter to be discontinued and we would urge the PPS to review, urgently, the evidence against Jake O’Brien to determine whether or not there was sufficient evidence of a realistic prospect of a conviction – that is not the case now. I would urge the prosecution to come back with a robust evaluation of the evidence now as it stands.”

O’Brien, from Church Walk in Lurgan, is one of three men accused of Mr Whitla’s murder. He is also charged with possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life.

His two co-accused who are facing the same charges, 25-year-old Kevin Conway, from Deeny walk in Lurgan and Joshua Cotter (29), from Madrid Street in Belfast.

According to the police case there is a “working hypothesis” the trio of alleged killers are “active members” of an organised crime gang known as ‘The Firm’ and that the shooting of Mr Whitla was as a result of a drugs feud over a debt.

The case was adjourned for two weeks.

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