An application to allow a man currently awaiting trial on a charge of murdering his wife to return to the family home in Donegal was refused by a senior judge today (Wednesday).

Stephen McKinney is accused of murdering his wife Lu Na (35), who died after entering the water in the Lower Lough Erne area of Fermanagh in April 2017.

The couple had been on a boating holiday when Mrs McKinney drowned, and her husband Stephen (44) was charged with - and denies - murdering the mother-of-two.

As part of his bail, the accused is currently residing at Castletown Square in Fintona.

Earlier this year, a trial was held at Dungannon Crown Court, but had to be aborted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

McKinney - who has been on bail since January 2018 - launched an application to vary the conditions imposed, which would allow him to return to the family home in Convoy, Co Donegal.

The application was objected to by the Crown, with a prosecutor saying that if conditions such as tagging, residency and curfew were removed, it would be impossible for McKinney to be monitored by the PSNI.

Defence barrister Martin O'Rourke QC said that when bail was first granted in January 2018, there was "very little evidence" of how McKinney would behave regarding the impending trial.

Pointing out that his client attended every day of the trial held earlier this year, Mr O'Rourke said it was through no fault of McKinney's that the hearing was aborted.

The defence barrister told Madam Justice McBride: "The position is that his trial is, realistically, not going to occur before the Spring 2021, and there is a very realistic chance that it could be substantially longer than that."

Pointing out that McKinney has adhered to all bail conditions, has not re-offended and turned up on time for his trial every day, Mr. O'Rourke said "the court is in a position to re-assess the attitude of the defendant more clearly now."

Mr. O'Rourke said McKinney was "extremely anxious to have his trial held at the earliest opportunity", adding "he was extremely disappointed the trial had to be aborted."

The barrister asked the Judge to vary elements of McKinney's bail, which would allow him to return to his home in Convoy.

Rejecting suggestions that his client was likely to abscond, Mr. O'Rourke said McKinney could report to police in Strabane via a telephone call or via Zoom, or that the Guards could assist by ensuring McKinney was living in Convoy.

Madam Justice McBride raised Crown concerns that McKinney would abscond to China. After pointing out that McKinney surrendered his passport, Mr. O'Rourke said that whilst his client lived and worked in China for a period, he didn't have property, business or financial interests there.

Crown barrister Michael Chambers re-inforced objections to the application to vary bail, and said that if the conditions of tagging, residency and curfew were removed, it would be very difficult for police to monitor him.

Expressing concerns that there would be nothing to stop McKinney from absconding, Mr. Chambers said that should McKinney flee, the PSNI "would not be aware he had absconded for some period of time."

Mr. Chambers added that should McKinney be allowed to return to Co. Donegal, the PSNI would have "no way of ensuring he was adhering" to any bail conditions.

After listening to submissions made by both the Crown and defence, Madam Justice McBride said she accepted McKinney has not breached any of his bail conditions.

She also accepted that he turned up for trial daily, and that the halting of the hearing in March was in no way his fault.

However, she said that concerns McKinney may not turn up for trial remained a "real and substantial risk" given that he has links to China and has expressed an interest to return there.

The Judge said that due to this risk, and to ensure he does not abscond, she was "not prepared to accede to this application to vary the bail conditions at this time."

After she refused the application, Madam Justice McBride spoke of a lack of court accommodation required to host trials due to the current pandemic.

Saying she would re-list the case for review in November, the Judge expressed the hope that progress will have been made by then to secure a new trial date.