‘WAKING The Dead’ detectives linked DNA from a motorbike helmet to a would-be terrorist assassin in Belfast, a court has heard.
Over 35 years after a murder bid on off-duty prison officer, fingerprint and DNA evidence led PSNI Serious Crime Branch detectives to a 64-year-old man living in sheltered housing in north Belfast.
Frail and balding Michael Burns faced Belfast Magistrates Court on Saturday morning dressed in a blue jumper and open neck shirt two days after he was arrested and taken to the serious crime suite in Antrim for questioning.
He only spoke in the dock to confirm that he understood the charges against him.
Burns, from Cliftonville Avenue in north Belfast, is accused of trying to kill the off-duty prison officer on June 28, 1977.
He is further charged with possessing a Harrington and Richardson revolver, along with a quantity of bullets, with intent to endanger life.
Detective Sergeant Hobson told the court he believed he could connect Burns to the charges.
The officer objected to bail on the grounds that after Burns was shot and wounded by the off-duty officer he then went on the run from Belfast.
He outlined how the prison officer was selling his house on Oldpark Avenue at the time of the incident but when two men pulled up on a hijacked motorbike, the officer’s wife became suspicious and shouted a warning to her husband.
The first gunman, said the cop produced a silver gun but before he could shoot, the officer “produced his personal protection pistol and shot this man” who then fled the scene.
The second gunman meanwhile also tried to flee but was stopped by an off-duty soldier with DS Hobson telling the court that he was jailed for the offence.
A motorcycle helmet was recovered from the scene and was sent for forensic examination and the officer said results had recently come back that Burns’ DNA profile had been found on it.
He was arrested at a fold sheltered housing last Wednesday but during a series of 15 police interviews at Antrim Serious Crime Suite , “remained silent or said ‘no comment’”.
DS Hobson said he was objecting to bail amid fears that Burns would abscond again although he agreed that for a considerable time, he had been a serving prisoner in Portlaoise jail but no details of the offence were given in open court.
A defence solicitor revealed that Burns suffered from a plethora of serious medical conditions including serious lung disease and blood disorders, adding that he had a “good support network” between his family and medical professionals.
He further revealed that Burns had been “living openly” in Northern Ireland for the last 15 years and told District Judge Harry McKibben: “He believes he is on his last year or two and doesn’t intend to go anywhere. He absolutely wants to stay and fight his case.”
Judge McKibben said while he shared the “very valid” police concerns about the risk of flight, he added that given Burns’ state of poor health he would grant bail but on “onerous conditions”.
He released Burns on his own bail of £2,500 (pounds) with two sureties of the same amount, ordered him to report to police on a daily basis, live at an address known to police, surrender any passports he owns and not to contact any other “A.S.U.” [active service unit] individuals who were named during his police interviews.
Judge McKibben also ordered him to appear in court again on May 9.