Category: Archive

Pols condemn light sentences for assault

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The four men had pleaded guilty to charges linked to a UDA extortion scam in the town of Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, when loyalists had demanded payments from the police officer who was posing as an ice-cream seller.
In court, a prosecuting lawyer said that police began an under-cover investigation into the UDA extortion racket two years ago. A officer had driven an ice-cream van into the loyalist Castlemara estate.
He was approached by two UDA men who told him they controlled ice-cream sales in the area. One of the men boasted that the UDA was also in overall control of all ice-cream sales in the nearby town of Larne.
Unaware they were being taped, the men told the under-cover officer he could not sell ice-cream without first registering with the local UDA. They then ordered him out of the area.
The lawyer said, as the police officer drove his van from the estate, there was an “orchestrated attack” on him by the accused and a number of other men armed with golf clubs, batons and stones, also captured on video.
The officer was showered with glass from his broken windscreen, had a “very lucky” escape according to the prosecution, and the video was later used to identify the four accused.
Three of the men, 38-year-old John Steven Millar, Robert Glen Murray, who’s 29, and 20-year-old Thomas McCrea were freed when their jail terms were suspended. The fourth man, Mark Gourley, 32, was put on probation for 18 months.
They had all pleaded guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm to the under-cover policeman and causing criminal damage to his ice-cream van. Lawyers for the four said they had been involved only in throwing a few stones before running off.
SDLP justice spokesperson Alban Maginness said the suspended sentences sent a terrible signal to paramilitaries.
“It was a highly organized attack and they made it perfectly clear that they were using violence and the threat of violence to control the ice-cream market. They should have received substantial jail sentences.
“I am mystified as to the reasoning behind the sentencing. The argument that they were merely foot soldiers rather than godfathers is questionable and anyway, it is irrelevant.
“It is the foot-soldiers who make people’s lives a misery in loyalist estates, who threaten people and beat them up, who sell the drugs and guard the brothels and collect the protection money.
“This sends a most unfortunate message at a time when they are running rampage, killing each other and organizing attacks on nationalist homes. If people who use baseball bats, golf clubs and batons for criminal profit are not to be jailed, how are we to protect law-abiding people?” he asked.
DUP Assembly member for South Antrim, Sammy Wilson, also said the sentences were “scandalous” and said it was a poor result for a long-running under-cover police operation against the UDA.
O’Connor, a Larne SDLP councilor who has come under attack from loyalists on numerous occasions, said the courts were apparently treating loyalists with indulgence and leniency.
A loyalist who had threatened to kill his (O’Connor’s) mother was also given a suspended sentence. Three months before that, the same man had been given another suspended sentence for attacking a policeman and threatening to burn his house down.
The Alliance Party’s Sean Neeson, a former mayor of Carrickfergus, said the sentences were a kick in the teeth to the police and undermined efforts to curb loyalist paramilitary control of Protestant estates.

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