A County Tyrone man currently awaiting trial for murder, has failed in an attempt to vary a bail condition relating to a separate matter, which while technically linked, is being dealt with separately.

Stephen McKinney (43) of Castletown Square, Fintona, is accused of murdering his wife Lu Na, on a date between 11 and 14 April 2017.

Since then he was charged with an offence described at Dungannon Magistrates Court as “interlinked” involved alleged misuse of a communications network.

Lu Na’s death was originally treated as a tragic accident during a boating trip on Lough Erne, with McKinney adamant he tried to save her when she fell overboard.

Following intensive investigation, a murder inquiry was launched.

McKinney was charged with murder and while bail was initially refused, it was later granted at High Court with conditions.

This included a ban on entering Strabane, which was varied temporarily to allow him to visit his wife’s grave on the anniversary of her death.

A trial got underway at Dungannon Crown Court before Madam Justice McBride in March but collapsed due to the coronavirus pandemic. She had previously removed the ban on entering Strabane, but this only applied to the murder case.

In the interim, McKinney appeared before Omagh Magistrates Court charged with improper use of a communications network on July 19, 2019.

The details aren’t known other than it is alleged McKinney sent an email to two family members, causing them upset.

He denies this and remains on bail awaiting contest.

Both injured parties reside in Strabane, so McKinney is not permitted to enter the area without giving police 24 hours notice.

His defence challenged this claiming as Justice McBride removed the ban in the murder case, the same should apply to the lesser matter.

The prosecutor explained, McKinney: “Is charged with murdering his wife, then arising out of that there is improper use of telecoms. We would ask the condition to remain. It is still necessary.”

She added the family members do not wish to encounter McKinney and an application to High Court to remove the condition last November was refused.

District Judge Eamon King enquired if this was a fair summary, to which the defence replied: “Yes and no.”

A police officer said the objection is grounded on risk of witness inference, and pointed to the current Covid-19 situation, restricting when people can go shopping.

The defence stated: “When the trial was aborted …. Justice McBride specifically said there are no restrictions on my client entering Strabane at all. It’s a matter of record.”

The officer replied: “Justice McBride cannot rule on this matter. She removed the condition in respect of her case allowing Mr McKinney to enter Strabane. But in this case, he is not.”

In respect of the Covid-19 situation the defence asked, “What has the current pandemic got to do with it? People are supposed to stay at home. What’s the purpose of that?”

The officer replied, “This condition is to safeguard the injured parties and allow them movement. I don’t know where Mr McKinney wishes to go in Strabane.”

The defence replied, “His wife is buried there. His solicitor’s office is there, as are his finances.”

The prosecution pointed out, “We aren’t disagreeing on him going to Strabane. It’s just he needs to give 24 hours notice.”

But the defence responded: “Police essentially want to control his movements. This condition is completely unnecessary. The two cases are interlinked – the murder trial and this communications charge. Justice McBride has seen fit to remove the restriction on entering Strabane in its entirety in the murder charge, so why would it stay in place for an innocuous charge? It’s beyond reasonable. I ask it is removed to reflect the order of Justice McBride.”

Wasting no time Judge King threw out the application ruling: “The majority of discussion on this relates to another charge, the most serious that anyone can face, that of murder … This case relates to persons living in Strabane which was why the court imposed the condition. In my opinion it is reasonable.”