Police: Four men arrested over death of journalist Lyra McKee

Four people have been arrested in connection with the April 2019 death of journalist Lyra McKee, police in Northern Ireland announced on Tuesday.

The charges against the four individuals came under the country’s Terrorism Act after the militant group New IRA said one of its members unknowingly shot the 29-year-old reporter during a riot in Londonderry.

The men arrested on Tuesday were identified only by the ages: 20, 27, 29 and 52. The men are being detained and questioned at the Musgrave Serious Crime Suite in Belfast. Police in the United Kingdom typically do not release the names of those arrested on suspicion of criminal matters until after an investigation has concluded.

In announcing the arrests, Detective Superintendent Jason Murphy renewed calls for members of the public to assist law enforcement with their investigation into McKee’s death.

Journalist Lyra McKee in an image from her Facebook page. (Photo: Facebook)

“I understand that people may be frightened to talk to us,” he said according to Irish public broadcaster RTÉ News. “I have previously given my personal assurance relating to anonymity for the purpose of this investigation — and I renew this assurance today — as we approach the anniversary of Lyra’s murder.”

Murphy said a number of eyewitness videos had been provided to police depicting the moment McKee was shot while covering the riots, but he believes more video and photographs exist. Those who have additional photos and videos that have not been submitted to the police are asked to provide them by visiting the Major Incident Public Portal.

The arrests on Tuesday marked the second time individuals had been taken into custody in connection with the deadly shooting. Shortly after McKee’s death, two teenagers were detained by police for questioning in connection with the incident. They were released a short time later without charge.

McKee’s death provided a temporary truce between rivaling political factions in Northern Ireland, with political leaders coming together to demand justice and a resolve to differences there.

“I want the community in Creggan to think about how that horrific attack impacted them personally and how it impacted the entire community,” Murphy said on Tuesday. “We saw widescale revulsion after Lyra was murdered and I remain determined to work with the community and local policing to convert that revulsion into tangible evidence to bring those who murdered Lyra to justice.”

McKee covered matters of conflict concerning various factions of the IRA during her lengthy freelance career. She had completed a book on the killing of a police officer by members of the Provisional IRA and was working on a second book about the disappearance of two men from Belfast that McKee believed were murdered.

“She had a thirst for knowledge about the Troubles but also for people’s personal stories,” her partner, Sara Canning, wrote in a memoriam for the Guardian. “It didn’t matter what foot you kicked with, she wanted to hear your story. In a Northern Irish context, I think she was quite exceptional in that way.”

In responding to her murder, a spokesperson for the New IRA using a “recognized codeword” told the Irish Times newspaper that McKee was killed while “standing beside enemy forces.” The spokesperson offered “our full and sincere apologies” to McKee’s family and partner and said the group had been instructed “to take the utmost care” in future riots.

Despite this call for a more careful approach, reporters continue to be threatened in Londonderry for reporting on the political unrest there.

Last week, graffiti was found accusing journalist Leona O’Neill of being an informant and falsely linking her to British intelligence agency M.I. 5. The graffiti appeared shortly after O’Neill — who was feet away from McKee when she was shot in the head last year — filed a report revealing a band with links to a group allying itself with the New IRA had participated in a Bloody Sunday march earlier this year.

A group that organized the march, the Bloody Sunday Trust, said it had nothing to do with appearances by members of the Saoradh group, which is considered a political ally of the New IRA.

In a television interview late last year, Saoradh leader Brian Kenna said he didn’t know the gunman behind McKee’s death and called the act “regrettable,” but he refused to condemn future acts of violence, warning that they were “inevitable.”

“It was a very tragic event,” Kenna told Sky News. “It will always happen as long as the country is artificially divided…people will always strike out against that occupation.”

Disclosure: The author of this story was a personal friend of Lyra McKee.