A gun found by police during searches in Londonderry last weekend has been identified as the weapon used to murder journalist Lyra McKee.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) confirmed the development after initial tests and an examination of the weapon, a Hammerli X-Esse pistol.
Ms McKee, 29, was shot during trouble in the city’s Creggan area in 2019.
The PSNI said Thursday’s announcement was “a significant moment for the investigation” into the New IRA murder.
The full forensic examination of the weapon will take some time to conclude.
The gun, along with a bomb, was found during planned police searches in the Ballymagroarty area of Derry.
Search operations took place over two days and covered 38 acres.
The victim’s partner and family have been informed of the development.
The police said they hoped the discovery would help them to bring the person who fired the shots to justice.
One man, Paul McIntyre, 52, from Kinnego Park in Derry, has been charged with Ms McKee’s murder.
He denies the charge.
‘New avenue of investigation’
Det Supt Jason Murphy said “a very detailed forensic examination of the gun, ammunition and the plastic bags in which they were wrapped is currently ongoing”.
He said forensic work would take “some considerable time to complete, particularly because of the intricate examination of the internal mechanisms”.
He said that the gun had “jammed as the gunman fired” and he had asked scientists to “extend their forensic examination beyond the outside of the gun and forensically examine the inside mechanisms of it”.
Mr Murphy said that since 18 April last year, the PSNI had been “collectively focused on seeking to bring to justice those who were involved in Lyra’s murder”.
“That collective effort has never been simply directed towards the person who pulled the trigger,” he said.
“I am as clear today as I have ever been that the bringing of that gun onto the streets involved a number of senior figures in the New IRA.
“Today’s confirmation is a significant step forward and opens up a new avenue of investigation for my team.”
Mr Murphy said the police investigation also extends to the disappearance of the weapon after it was fired.
New IRA’s disregard ‘staggering’
“Somebody was able to transport this gun and its ammunition from Creggan to Ballymagroarty and hide them in a field, within 250 yards of local housing,” he added.
“This placed other members of the public at further considerable risk.
“The disregard shown by the New IRA is staggering but completely unsurprising.
“They continue to put their own agenda above the rights of local communities to live in peace.”
Mr Murphy said on Wednesday night he had the “unenviable task” of telling Ms McKee’s family and her partner Sara Canning that the gun that killed the journalist had been found.
He said it was “a very difficult moment for all of them, as they struggle every day to deal with Lyra’s brutal murder”.
‘I know who the gunman is’
Det Supt Murphy also said they had “appealed for the local community to continue to help my investigation”.
“For those with a conscience, Lyra’s murder will have played heavily on their minds every single day,” Mr Murphy added.
“As the net gradually tightens, those who fired the gun, transported it, moved it, stored it, carried it, hid it or interacted with it in any way, should expect the police at their door.
“Our collective efforts have lost no energy or focus.
“I know who was involved. I know who the gunman is.
“I have asked the scientists to find me the evidence that will enable me to complete the jigsaw of the events of 18 April that I have been building for Lyra’s family since the night she was murdered.”