'Rehab not jail' for making devices

Published Friday, 24 January 2014
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A non-custodial sentence imposed on a man for making devices planted at a Catholic primary school, community hall and GAA ground was lenient but not wrong in law, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

'Rehab not jail' for making devices
The senior judges said rehabilitation can be an effective deterrent. (© UTV)

Senior judges said in some cases rehabilitation rather than imprisonment can be the most effective form of deterrence.

Northern Ireland's Director of Public Prosecutions had sought an increase on the two year probation order and 100 hours community service imposed on Ryan McDowell.

According to Barra McGrory the crude, fireworks-based devices were strategically left at premises in order to intimidate Catholics in the north Antrim area.

Arguing that an unduly lenient sentence had been handed down, he claimed trial judge put insufficient weight on the sectarian context.

But having dismissed his application, on Friday the Court of Appeal gave reasons for the decision.

McDowell, from Laurel Park, Ahoghill, Co Antrim, pleaded guilty to making and possessing explosives in suspicious circumstances.

Two of the devices contained banger-type explosives while a third was effectively a hoax.

They were all found on the same day in January 2011 at the entrances to St Paul's Primary School in Ahoghill, Clooney Community Centre in Ballymena and the Roger Casements GAA ground in Portglenone.

McDowell, 21, admitted having handled the devices after his DNA was recovered from tape used on them.

He denied ever having been a member of the Loyalist Action Force grouping said to have planted them.

Instead, he said he just wanted to "fit in" and do something exciting or different, the court heard.

He expressed remorse for his actions and later apologised to a local parish priest.

Explaining the reasons for dismissing the application, Lord Justice Coghlin underlined the need for deterrent custodial sentences in sectarian violence cases without exceptional circumstances.

"However, rehabilitation, rather than incarceration, may in particular cases be the most effective means of achieving lasting personal deterrence, a result that is also very much in the public interest," he said.

The judge added: "We are prepared to accept that this was a lenient sentence and even, as (McDowell's barrister) conceded, that it could be described as a very lenient sentence."

But he held there had been no error in principle or shift outside the range of sentences available to the trial judge, Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland, to render it unduly lenient.

"In such circumstances the reference must be dismissed," he confirmed.

Sitting with Lord Justice Girvan and Mr Justice Deeny, Lord Justice Coghlin also set out the conflicting views expressed by the different victims.

Letters from the parish priest and school referred to correspondence from McDowell and a face-to-face meeting.

"They were both generous and humane in content in expressing a hope that the offender would be given an opportunity to pursue a normal life," Lord Justice Coghlin said.

However, a meeting of the Clooney Rural Development Association reached a conclusion that the attacks were aimed at the Catholic community and represented a setback to attempts to improve cross-community relations.

It recommended that McDowell should receive a prison sentence to deter further attacks.

Community service would be viewed as a "let off", the court heard.

Lord Justice Coghlin commented: "Neither members of this court nor the Director had ever previously encountered a recommendation from a victim source that a custodial sentence should be passed."

He pointed to a previous ruling which cautioned against either the "understandable outrage of some victims" or the "generosity of spirit shown by others" being allowed to influence sentencing.

"The wisdom of such an approach may be clearly illustrated by the circumstances of this case in which, given the conflict of views, the learned Recorder would have faced an impossible task had he attempted to satisfy the advices of both."

© UTV News
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5 Comments
shamrock in the real world wrote (88 days ago):
What planet do these appeal court judges live on? If it had been their nearest and dearest threatened and terrorised, would they have overturned this ridiculous sentence? And what about the initial judge who handed down this baffling, trivial sentence? The mind wonders what sentence he would give for rape? An ASBO??? Jud
David in Belfast wrote (88 days ago):
Says it all about British justice going soft. No wonder people reoffend if they are given a slap on the wrists. Make it a position that crime doesnt pay and punishment will be seen to hurt as opposed to a reward
D in belfast wrote (89 days ago):
absolute joke this wudbe terrorist gets a slap on the wrist for trying to bomb and maim primary school children? ? this country has been devastated for years by this excat kind of behaviour so to deter the next generation from the same fate we should have made an example here to show that we will not tolerate it anymore! !
Ryan in An Dun wrote (89 days ago):
If you make an example of people like this then they would think twice. Rehab? He will be in the having a laugh. It's a joke. I wonder what he would have got if he had done the same in Germany or China. (Countries that do take crime serious)
S.B. in Belfast wrote (89 days ago):
I seriously doubt any Republican, dissident or otherwise, would have been shown such leniency by the Courts here. Does anyone for one minute think those who planted devices in Belfast over Christmas would get suspended sentences or community service if caught? While the PSNI and Northern Courts continue to treat Loyalists with kid gloves Nationalists will always be very wary and not give their full support; that is a fact!
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