A pensioner who committed a lewd act outside a nursery school on Belfast’s Shankill Road was handed a five-month prison sentence on Friday.
Alex Reynolds was due to be released from prison due to time served on remand. However, Belfast Crown Court heard that he is homeless, penniless and has no accommodation in place for release.
Concerns were raised during sentencing, both about a potential for Reynolds to offend given his homeless status, and also a need to protect the public from his offending.
Judge Patricia Smyth was informed by a social worker from Belfast Trust that when Reynolds is released, his accommodation needs are the responsibility of the Housing Executive.
The social worker also said that is was likely Reynolds will initially be placed in a hostel, and that both the Trust and the Probation Board were working to secure the 70-year old supported accommodation.
At a previous hearing, Reynolds admitted two charges arising from an incident on the Shankill Road on August 15 last year. He was arrested on the day of the offence and has remained in custody since.
Around 11am on August 15 last year, a motorist was driving citywards along Shankill Road with his partner and two-year old child, when he noticed a man sitting on a wall outside a nursery school with his trousers around his knees and his genitals in his hand.
Prosecutor Mark Farrell said that whilst this was happening, some of the youngsters attending the day centre would have been in the outdoor playing area.
Believing the man on the wall was attempting to stimulate himself, the motorist beeped his horn and remonstrated with him. He then pulled his car over at a garage, got out of the vehicle and confronted Reynolds.
Reynolds pulled his trousers up and when asked what he was doing, the pensioner told the motorist he was urinating. The motorist left the area but went to Tennent Street police station, where he reported the matter.
When police investigated the motorist’s complaint, they located Reynolds on the Shankill Road, drinking from a tin of Special Brew beer. This, the court heard, was in breach of a previously imposed Sexual Offences Prevention Order - just one of 15 breaches he has committed.
Reynolds was arrested and during interview, he admitting drinking but denied committed a lewd act outside the nursery.
He also claimed he did not know there was a nursery, saying he was simply walking along the road to the city centre.
Sentencing Reynolds, he was told by Judge Smyth: “The offence was committed beside a nursery school. Your behaviour was described by a member of the public as shocking and upsetting.
“If any of those young children had observed your behaviour, I have no doubt it would have been extremely distressing for them also.
“You continue to abuse alcohol and your chaotic lifestyle has resulted in difficulties in you obtaining any kind of suitable accommodation.”
Raising concerns about the risk Reynolds poses to the public, particularly when he is homeless, Judge Smyth said every effort was being made to find suitable accommodation for the pensioner.
Telling Reynolds he had to engage with the relevant agencies in a bid to secure accommodation, the judge told him: “You are hurting people by your behaviour and I want you to think about that.
“The only way in which you can stop hurting people is if you comply with what you are asked to be your social worker and probation officer.”