Carroll killer's sentence under review

Published Tuesday, 22 May 2012
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The Director of Public Prosecutions is reviewing the sentence handed down to one of two men convicted of the 2009 murder of PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll, in a bid to decide whether or not it should be appealed.

Carroll killer's sentence under review
John Paul Wootton was told he faces at least 14 years behind bars. (© Pacemaker)

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Should there be a law in Northern Ireland giving a fixed minimum jail term specifically for anyone found guilty of murdering a police officer?
Should there be a law in Northern Ireland giving a fixed minimum jail term specifically for anyone found guilty of murdering a police officer?


John Paul Wootton, 21, was told by a judge on Monday that he must spend a minimum of 14 years in jail for his part in the 2009 killing - prompting an expression of disgust from the victim's widow Kate Carroll.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory QC, is now deciding whether to refer the sentence to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that it may be unduly lenient.

"John Paul Wootton was man enough to go out and do the crime and he was defiant enough to sit in the dock and wave to all the people in the gallery," Kate told UTV, welcoming the development.

"He knew exactly what he was doing."

Sinn Féin councillor Brendan McConville must serve at least 25 years in prison for the murder, while the age of his accomplice Wootton was considered a mitigating factor - he was just 17 at the time of the shooting.

Fourteen years for a life is dreadful - I've got a life sentence ahead of me, so he should too.

Kate Carroll

But both Kate and the chairman of the Stormont Justice Committee, DUP MLA Paul Givan, have expressed fears that such leniency will not act as a deterrent for young people being lured into criminal or terrorist groups.

"In fact, I believe it will encourage those organisations to use more young people because they are of the view that the courts won't give them a proper punishment," Mr Givan told UTV.

Constable Carroll was shot dead in a dissident republican ambush in Craigavon while responding to a 999-call.

Calls are now being made for new legislation to ensure that anyone found guilty of murdering a police officer in Northern Ireland is sentenced in line with the rest of the UK, where a minimum guideline of 30 years exists.

In England and Wales, the Criminal Justice Act 2003 sets out a starting point recommending 30 years in jail - although that can be raised or lowered depending on any aggravating or mitigating circumstances.

But, despite the increased dissident threat in Northern Ireland and the targeting of security force members, no tariff or guidelines exist for sentencing anyone convicted specifically of the murder of a police officer.

A Department of Justice spokesperson confirmed: "Sentencing in individual cases is a matter for the independent judiciary. For those convicted of murder, a mandatory life sentence applies and the judge has the option to impose a minimum tariff at which point it is for the Parole Commission to consider the issue of release.

"There is nothing in the law about tariffs for particular types of murder."

In the Republic of Ireland, anyone found guilty of murdering a Garda officer can face a minimum of 40 years behind bars under the Criminal Justice Act 1990.

A spotlight has now been thrown on the issue in the wake of Monday's sentencing.

"We have a motion to be debated here in the Assembly on 11 June calling for a review of sentencing for the murders of police officers," Mr Givan said.

We can't have a scenario where the life of a police officer in Northern Ireland is worth less than the life of an officer in England.

Paul Givan, DUP MLA

Ulster Unionist MLA Ross Hussey, who is also a member of the Policing Board, said no one could fail to be moved by Kate Carroll's words outside the court where her husband's killers were sentenced.

"Her disgust at the 14-year minimum sentence for one of the murderers will be shared by all right-thinking people in Northern Ireland," he said.

Mr Hussey is calling on the Assembly to act quickly to ensure that legislation is passed to offer greater protection to police officers in Northern Ireland.

"We ask an incredible amount of our police officers - they are expected to put themselves in harm's way on a daily basis on behalf of society," he added.

"I believe they are entitled to expect that if something does happen to them, then the perpetrator will face the most severe penalty possible.

"Why should police officers in Northern Ireland enjoy less protection that their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom?"

© UTV News
Comments Comments
43 Comments
Tired Of It in Ballymoney wrote (882 days ago):
Liam, your argument has a fatal flaw. You say all murder victims should be treated as equal, but then you say that certain offenders charged with murder should be treated differently from others because of age and whether or not they pulled the trigger. It makes me wonder why you are unyielding with regards to the victim of murder but quite prepared to split hairs when it comes to the perpetrators.
liam in belfast wrote (883 days ago):
No maggie you are wrong. He does not deserve to be treated differently. If a civilian confronts scumbags trying to break into his property and gets stabbed to death, is he not murdered trying to protect his family?? Why should his killers get away with it without all the furore? A life is a life, police officer or civilian, it SHOULD NOT matter. The media coverage is also ridiculous given the murder of Lauren O'Neill, this has hardly been mentioned. Just goes to show that in our wee sick society there is a hierarchy of victims, which is totally wrong! And Steve, this is about equality, not psni bashing.
all innocent in comber wrote (883 days ago):
ciara , what planet are you from?did the courts not hear evidence etc in these cases?did the judges not find them guilty?get real and face the facts, these are murders, i wonder if these people were loyalist would you be on here with this rubbish?somehow i dont think so?
steve in belfast wrote (883 days ago):
@ liam i can feel your anti psni from your post, Stephen Carroll put his life on the line for everyone in this country , yes even you!Wooten maybe didnt pull the trigger but he drove the car, he took the gunman to kill his victim then drove him away.He knew right from wrong and he made his mind up to be part of the murder of a policeman,a crime were anywhere else in the world it is viewed as horrendous and worthy of a life sentence and in some countries the death penalty.Perhaps you can enlighten me as to your thinking of how we put an end to murdering policemen and soldiers,life without parole would be a big deterrant.Maybe you think 14 years is a much bigger one?
Rob in North Down wrote (883 days ago):
I can't believe that some people feel that the sentence is fair. Imagine for one minute that your wife / husband / child is murdered by a group of people who set out to kill. Would you care that one of them didn't pull the trigger, but just drive the getaway car? I doubt it. Wootten knew what he was getting in to. He should get the same sentence as an adult.
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