PSNI: The murder of Lyra McKee was 'not done to further any cause – this will have achieved nothing other than to plunge a family into grief'

The Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI say they are looking for multiple suspects in the murder of Lyra McKee.

At a press conference in Derry this morning, Dep Chief Constable Stephen Martin said “there was certainly more than one person involved in the murder” of journalist Ms McKee.

Addressing the suspected perpetrators, Mr Martin said: “This was not done to further any cause – this will have achieved nothing other than to plunge a family into grief”.

His comments came as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described the murder of Ms McKee as “an act of fear. an act of hate and an act of cowardice”.

He said the perpetrators do “not share the views of our national, nor our Republic. And we reject them”.

Mr Varadkar said this afternoon: “Twenty-one years ago today, on Good Friday, we as a people, North and South, chose peace, power-sharing and ever-closer co-operation. We will not be dragged back into the past.

“There is no place nor any justification for political violence in Ireland, or Northern Ireland today…

“And so, this was an attack not just on one citizen, it was an attack on all of us, our nation and our freedoms.”

His comments came as Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan sympathised with the family and friends of Ms McKee, saying her murder was an “attack on the freedom of the press”.

“For a 29-year-old to be killed for simply doing her job is beyond words,” he RTE Radio One’s News At One progamme.

“We don’t say it enough, but journalists play a vital role in today’s society, exposing themselves to danger so we can get a true insight into events.

“The courageous PSNI officers who risk their lives to maintain public safety deserve nothing less than wholehearted support from the community”.

Earlier today, the PSNI said dissident republican group the New IRA was probably responsible for the shooting dead a journalist of Lyra McKee in Derry last night.

Ms McKee, 29, was shot in the head in what police are treating as a “terrorist incident”, amid disturbances in Derry on Thursday evening, and died later in hospital.

PSNI officers were carrying out a search operation in the Creggan area of Derry aimed at disrupting dissident republicans ahead of this weekend’s commemoration of Irish independence, when a situation developed during which more than 50 petrol bombs were thrown at officers and two cars were hijacked and set on fire.

During the unrest a gunman fired a number of shots at police, Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said.

He said: “Lyra McKee, 29 years old, was wounded. She was taken away in a police Land Rover to Altnagelvin Hospital but unfortunately she has died there.

“We have now launched a murder inquiry here in the city.

“We believe this to be a terrorist act, we believe it has been carried out by violent dissident republicans, our assessment at this time is that the New IRA are most likely to be the ones behind this and that forms our primary line of inquiry.

“This is a horrendous act, it is unnecessary, it is uncalled for, it is totally unjustified.”

Petrol bombs were thrown and images from the scene show vehicles alight and others burnt out, with dissident republican terrorists suspected of being behind the attack.

Ms McKee tweeted about the “absolute madness” in Derry in the hours before her death.

Ms McKee is the first journalist to have been killed in Ireland or the UK since Sunday World investigative reporter Martin O’Hagan was shot dead by the Loyalist Volunteer Force in Lurgan in September 2001.

Ms McKee rose to prominence in 2014 after a blog post called “Letter to my 14-year-old self” in which she spoke about the struggle of growing up gay in Belfast.

In the five years since, her letter was turned into a short film, she became a published author with Angels With Blue Faces, and had recently signed a two-book deal with Faber & Faber, as well as appearing in domestic and international publications.

Named as one of the “30 under 30 in media” by Forbes Magazine in 2016, Ms McKee was cited for her passion of “dig(ging) into topics that others don’t care about”.

Angels With Blue Faces, a non-fiction book about the Troubles-era cold case murder of South Belfast MP Rev Robert Bradford, was released in 2018 and her latest book, The Lost Boys, is due for publication by Faber & Faber next year.

President Higgins said that Ms McKee’s death has caused “shock and outrage.”

“The people of Ireland will have heard with both shock, outrage and great sadness of the killing of the young journalist Lyra McKee in Derry last evening – a woman of talent and commitment, who was shot exercising her profession.

“Sabina and I send our deepest sympathies to her family and friends and to all those who knew and worked with her.”

Tanaiste Simon Coveney echoed these sentiments, as he said in a statement: “Shocking and reckless terrorism from the enemies of peace in Ireland.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May said: “She was a journalist who died doing her job with great courage.”

US Speaker at the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi is leading a delegation at Stomont.

She noted: “Sadly, we join you, on the sadness, the tragedy that happened last night, we extend our condolences to the family, coming on Good Friday, it is especially poignant.”

Seamus Dooley of the National Union of Journalists saying the organisation was “shocked by (the) killing of a journalist of courage, style and integrity”.

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The Press Association has seen mobile phone footage purporting to be from the scene, showing at least two shots being fired before a distant scream can be heard.

“They’ve shot someone up there,” a male voice says on another clip, which has not been verified.

Assistant chief constable Mark Hamilton, from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said a murder inquiry had been launched after the death.

He said: “Sadly I can confirm that following shots being fired tonight in Creggan, a 29-year-old woman has been killed.

“We are treating this as a terrorist incident and we have launched a murder inquiry.”

Journalist Leona O’Neill said she was at the scene of the killing.

Writing on Twitter, she said: “I was standing beside this young woman when she fell beside a police Land Rover tonight in Creggan #Derry.

“I called an ambulance for her but police put her in the back of their vehicle and rushed her to hospital where she died. Just 29 years old. Sick to my stomach tonight.”

The unrest comes ahead of the Easter weekend where republicans mark the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, a time when dissidents are traditionally active.

Politicians have widely condemned the killing.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said: “Devastating news. Thoughts are with Lyra’s family and friends. At times like this, words fail. My heart is sore. Those who brought violence and death to our streets have nothing else to offer but more of the same.

“If you can assist the police, please, come forward. Stop this.”

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said the killing in Derry was a “senseless loss of life”.

She said: “I am shocked and saddened at the tragic news that a young woman has been shot dead by so-called dissidents in the Creggan estate tonight.

“The murder of this young woman is a human tragedy for her family, but it is also an attack on all the people of this community, an attack on our peace process and an attack on the Good Friday Agreement.

“I unreservedly condemn those responsible for killing this young woman.

“We will remain resolute in our opposition to the pointless actions of these people who care nothing for the people of Derry.”

  • Read More: ‘A sickening waste of a lovely, gifted human being’ – tributes paid to journalist Lyra McKee

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster tweeted: “Heartbreaking news. A senseless act. A family has been torn apart.

“Those who brought guns onto our streets in the 70s, 80s & 90s were wrong. It is equally wrong in 2019.

“No one wants to go back. My thoughts are also with the brave officers who stood in defence of their community.”

Gary Middleton, a DUP former deputy mayor of Derry City Council and current Member of the Legislative Assembly, tweeted: “Disgraceful scenes of violence in the Creggan estate tonight.

“PSNI and members of the public being put in danger by unrepresentative thugs intent on destroying communities.”

Mark H Durkan, SDLP MLA for Foyle, said he was left “heartbroken and angry” by the killing.

“Just leaving Creggan, heartbroken and angry at the senseless loss of a young life,” he tweeted.

“Violence only creates victims, that’s all it ever has done. The thoughts and prayers of our city are with the young woman’s family and friends, may she rest in peace.”

The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rt Rev Dr Charles McMullen, said the murder of Ms McKee was a “totally appalling, outrageous and unjustifiable act”.

“The devastating news that greeted us this morning, on this particular day – Good Friday – would have been news of the worst kind for the family of Lyra McKee, and I offer my sincere condolences to them, and prayers for them, at this awful time. It is also not only a tragic day for the City of Londonderry, it is a tragedy for society as a whole.

“What happened last night was rooted in a past that has absolutely no place in the present, or future, as it was a totally appalling, outrageous and unjustifiable act by those who have nothing to offer anyone.

“On a pastoral visit to the PSNI in Derry on Monday of this week, I spoke of ‘society’s debt to police officers’ while praising their ‘selflessness’. Last night was yet another example of the debt we owe to them in the face of needless rioting.

“As I wrote in my Easter Message, ‘Christ reaches into the coldest, darkest tombs of human existence and brings the warmth of his loving kindness and the light of his beautiful presence. It is my prayer that all who mourn Ms McKee today, her family and colleagues who do such a vital job, will know that warmth and his never ending love and compassion,” he said.

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With additional reporting from The Press Association and Reuters

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