A Co Antrim man accused of “an attack on democracy” today escaped going to prison after he was caught “red handed” trying to break into an Alliance Party constituency office armed with an axe and a crowbar.
Handing down a 12-month sentence suspended for three years to Charles Mervyn Jamison (39), of Old Glenarm Road, Larne, Judge stephen Fowler QC said the “wanton vandalism” was also an “attack on the right of people to freely hold their political views”.
Prosecuting counsel Roseanne McCormick told Antrim Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, that on July 19, 2013, police in Larne received a report of a “smashing sound” coming from the rear of premises in the town’s Main Street.
“Police attended the scene where they located the smashing sound had come from the rear of 97 Main Street,” said Ms McCormick.
“They found a broken window and entered the premises through the broken window. They found the defendant inside the property in the communal hall where the Alliance Party office is located in the same premises.
“The defendant was holding an axe and a crowbar and was smashing the door and the lock of the door to the Alliance Party office.”
The court heard that Jamison was asked by the officers to put down the weapons which he did.
“He gave the impression of being very intoxicated and was arrested. Asked why he was attacking the office, he replied: “I just don’t like the Alliance Party.’’
Former coach builder Jamison was taken to Ballymena police station for questioning.
Ms McCormick added: “He admitted during interview that the axe and crowbar where his and he intended to enter the office and trash it. He apologised for his actions. He was literally caught red-handed.”
The lawyer told the court that last December, Jamison pleaded guilty to one charge of burglary with intent to cause unlawful damage. A further charge of going equipped for burglary was left on the books and not to be proceeded with without the leave of the Crown Court or Court of Appeal.
The court heard that repair bill to the office stood at £1,390 and Ms McCormick asked the court to make a compensation order for the full amount.
Asked by Judge Fowlers QC to confirm that the attack on the Allliance Party office had not been part of a “planned or orchestrated campaign’’, Ms McCormick replied: “Yes, that is correct. It is not categorised as part of any orchestration or campaign.”
Defence barrister Paul Bacon told the court: “This was an utterly and completely disgraceful incident which was not part of any orchestrated campaign.
“Mr Jamison works in a fishing tackle shop in the same building and for whatever reason, which was associated with the consumption of alcohol, committed this offence.
“As he told the police why he did it, he said: ‘I just don’t like the Alliance Party.’ But there can be no excuses for this disgraceful behaviour.”
Mr Bacon confirmed to the court that Jamison had worked as a coach builder for ten years but had to give it after he fell ill with epilepsy.
He said he was working part time and had saved up the money to repay £1,390 owed for the office repairs.
“To show how he has progressed, he has not consumed alcohol since this incident, he is voluntarily attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and he has not come to the attention of police since.
“If your honour was to suspend a custodial sentence he will not repay the court by offending that,” added the defence barrister.
Passing sentence, Judge Fowler QC said: “This was a local political party office, an office where individuals met their constituents, held clinics and carried out very important work for people in the local community in Larne.
“It has been made very clear that you were not part of any orchestrated campaign against the Alliance Party office of the Alliance Party in general.
“That is not to lessen the distress that would have been caused to persons who worked in that office while you worked part time in a fishing tackle shop in the same premises.
“There is no doubt these persons and anyone attending the office in which they are entitled to do would have been quite rightly distressed by this wanton vandalism by this defendant.
“It has to be noted that he was not part of any organised campaign and he was not involved with others.”
Judge Fowler QC added that by his early guilty plea, Jamison had shown an “element of remorse’’ for his actions.
The judge said that had Jamison, who was described as a “functioning alcoholic”, contested the case and was convicted, he would have been sentenced to 18 months in custody.
However, the Crown Court judge said given Jamison’s mental and physical health conditions, the fact that he had repaid the £1,390 for the damages, had stayed off alcohol for the past year and not committed any further offences, he had decided to suspended a 12 month determinate sentence for three years.
Judge Fowler QC warned Jamison: “If you commit any further offences in which a period of custody is imposed, you will be brought back and the 12-month sentence you have received for this offence will run consecutively to any other sentence.”
The court made a destruction order for the axe and crowbar and also granted a Crown application for compensation of £1,390 to be paid to the landlord of the property.