Northern Ireland

Lyra McKee murder: Woman's house 'wrongly targeted' by police

Police Land Rovers at the scene of the rioting in Derry Image copyright PA
Image caption The scene of rioting in Londonderry on the night Lyra McKee was killed

A woman whose home was searched during rioting on the night Lyra McKee was murdered in Londonderry said she was wrongly targeted by police.

Creggan woman, Anne McGowan, 57, said she has no ties to dissident republicans.

Locals blame the search on the riot, during which journalist Ms McKee was shot dead in Derry on 18 April.

The PSNI defended the search, saying it always assesses the impact of searches on "wider community safety".

A police raid on Ms McGowan's home lasted from 21:00 BST until just before midnight on Easter Thursday.

Ms McGowan has questioned why her home was raided.

Nothing was found, and she said police actions have cast a cloud over her reputation.

During the search, rioting broke out, during which a dissident New IRA gunman shot Ms McKee as he fired at police lines.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Lyra McKee was observing rioting in Londonderry's Creggan estate when she was shot

Ms McGowan said she has no idea why more than a dozen officers entered her home to search it.

"I honestly don't know. I have been asked that so many times," she said.

"It is not worth going out the door at times, because people are asking you and looking at you, like you are telling lies, that you know something and are not saying it.

"And it's not like that at all."

'Tarnished'

Ms McGowan said that, through no fault of her own, her reputation has been tarnished after the PSNI raided her house looking for materials belonging to dissident republicans.

"I am not involved in anything. I don't go anywhere. I keep myself to myself," she said.

"It is shameful to be accused of something you did not do."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Police were searching for weapons and ammunition when violence started on 18 April

A dissident republican parade had been planned by the political party Saoradh, which has the support of the New IRA, for the Creggan area on Easter Monday.

Police said they carried out the raid on the previous Thursday night because they feared attacks by dissident republicans over that weekend.

The warrant used for the search said "it was necessary to seize" CCTV, media storage devices, mobile phones, sim cards and "articles likely to be of use to terrorists", but nothing was removed from the house.

"They looked through different things. They pulled out everything, searched everything," she said.

"My daughter's laptop, and her old laptop. They did not take that. They did not take my phone.

"They did not even look at my phone. They did not take a thing," Ms McGowan said.

She believes police may have raided the wrong house, or false information was given to them in a bid to lure the PSNI into the area.

Image caption Women smear red handprints on slogans outside the office of Saoradh, a political group linked to the New IRA

The police declined a BBC request for an interview or to answer specific questions about the search, but defended their actions.

"Before we carry out searches, we will carefully assess information available to us and apply for a search warrant to be granted," Crime Operations Assistant Chief Constable, Barbara Gray said.

"The impact that police presence has in an area will always be balanced against the purpose of the search and wider community safety."

A friend of Ms McGowan's, Paul McDaid, accused the police of heightening tensions in the run up to the planned dissident republican Easter commemoration:

"To be honest with you, I think the police set it up. They came in here to cause trouble on Easter Thursday," he said.

"Why come into the Creggan at 9 o'clock on a Thursday night, knowing that they were going to draw attention?

Image caption The spot where Lyra McKee was shot in the Creggan area of Derry is still marked with flowers

"That is the only reason I can come up with."

People Before Profit Councillor Eamonn McCann also raised questions about the raid.

"We have to underline that no matter what the PSNI did, no matter what anybody did, it does not excuse what Saoradh and their associates did to Lyra McKee," he said.

"But the question has been asked a thousand times in Derry since, and I ask it now: why were the police raiding a house in the Creggan at that time of the night?

"Why not at six o'clock in the morning?

'Common sense'

"It is common sense that there is going to be some kind of a riot... when the police went in. They must have known that.

"I think the PSNI should answer, so that we have a full picture of what happened on the night that Lyra McKee was so cruelly killed."

ACC Gray added: "The PSNI priority will always be to protect communities and keep people safe from harm."

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