A man charged with murdering his wife during a family boating holiday is to be granted bail, Northern Ireland’s most senior judge ruled on Thursday.
Stephen McKinney’s release conditions include a ban on any unauthorised contact with his two children - both potential witnesses in the investigation into the death of 35-year-old Lu Na McKinney at Devenish Island, Lough Erne, Co Fermanagh last April.
Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan held that her husband faces a circumstantial case, with no suggestion of a tendency to random violence.
“If the prosecution case is correct this was a targeted attack upon a particular individual for a particular purpose,” he said.
The 41-year-old accused, originally from Strabane but with an address at The Flax Fields in Lifford, Co Donegal, denies murder, insisting he tried in vain to rescue his wife after she fell into the water.
Mrs McKinney, a Chinese national, was initially believed to have died in a boating accident.
But based on statements from staff at the marina where the family hired their cruiser, expert witnesses, work colleagues of the deceased and telecommunications evidence, police launched a murder inquiry.
At a previous High Court hearing it was alleged that McKinney subjected his wife to “controlling, degrading and manipulating” treatment.
Prosecutors claimed he had verbally abused her in the past about their sex life.
Following her death McKinney provided varying recollections of how his wife fell overboard while checking their mooring and after taking sleeping pills, according to police.
A pharmacologist also provided an opinion that she couldn’t have functioned as described due to the “hypnotic-sedative effect” of the drugs in her system, the court was told.
It was further alleged that she had once spoke about a case where another woman went missing from a cruise ship and stated that if anything should happen to her “it would be Stephen”.
The couple were said to have married in 2003, moving between the Republic of Ireland and China before returning to Donegal in 2016.
In a statement to police McKinney said he had taught English to students online and hoped to find further work in the same field.
He described his wife as “a beautiful woman who couldn’t cook”, said they were happy together and added that she looked after the family’s finances as he had no concept of money.
According to his account they hired the boat to go on a two-night Easter break with their two children, aged 14 and 11.
He confirmed there were only two life jackets on the cruiser, used by his son and daughter, and claimed they had set off without two more being provided because of the excitement of the trip.
On the night his wife died McKinney claimed she took possibly two sleeping tablets the couple had previously purchased on the internet, the court heard.
He told police that he woke later to find her standing beside him fully dressed, saying she thought the boat was moving and was going out to check the ropes.
McKinney claimed he followed his wife out onto the deck, saw her fall overboard and possibly shout for help.
He said that he immediately jumped into the Lough and managed to get hold of her.
The court was told she couldn’t swim and was struggling, pulling him down and grabbing his necklace.
McKinney claimed that after he lost grip of his wife she was “gone”.
He recalled pulling himself back onto the boat and using the torch function on his mobile phone to search for her before calling 999 for help.
The two children remained asleep throughout the incident, according to his statement.
During the previous hearing the court was told mobile phones and computers seized from McKinney led to the recovery skype chats, sex videos and sexual images involving the defendant, his wife and other unknown individuals.
Prosecution counsel claimed a chat log from 2014 depicted McKinney as verbally abusive towards his wife about their sex life, blaming her for a period of separation and then encouraging her to take part in activities.
Defence lawyers argued that the allegations against McKinney were based on rumour and innuendo.
They insisted that his wife died accidentally after he tried and failed to save her.
Returning to the case today, Sir Declan was told McKinney has now obtained an address in Fintona, Co Tyrone.
Granting bail on that basis, the judge ordered the accused to be excluded from the town where his son and daughter are living.
“He is not to contact, directly or indirectly, his children without the consent of both social services and the police,” he said.
Amid concerns about a possible flight risk, Sir Declan also banned McKinney from leaving Northern Ireland.
He directed that the accused is not to be released from custody until his passport is either surrendered or cancelled.