Thief with “extremely low intelligence” sentenced

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A “highly susceptible” thief who went with a friend to rob his local shop when they ran out of money and cigarettes after partying in a house opposite was today sentenced to four-and-a-half years.

Belfast Crown Court heard that despite being arrested 10 minutes after the robbery, Matthew McKee was not fit to be interviewed until a day-and-a-half after the incident.

The shop’s owner, a women in her 50s, was so upset by the robbery that she sold her business and was out of work for nine months, prompting Judge David McFarland to comment that shops of this kind served the local community and the courts would protect both owners and members of staff.

McKee, 21, from Carlisle Road in Belfast, will serve two years of his sentence in custody with the remaining two-and-a-half years to be spent on supervised licence upon his release.

Crown prosecutor Robin Steer said McKee and a co-accused – who has already been handed a five-year sentence – entered the shop at Manor Street in Belfast at around 11.15am on December 4, 2011.

While McKee initially stood at the door, his friend produced a knife, demanded the owner hand over cash and stabbed a pile of newspapers.

He went behind the counter and started taking cigarettes. McKee also walked behind the counter and began lifting cigarettes, but the pair fled the shop when a male customer came in and the owner asked him to call the police.

Both men were soon arrested, with McKee initially denying involvement – however, he subsequently pleaded guilty to a charge of robbery.

Defence barrister Joe Brolly spoke of his client’s “extremely low” intelligence, saying he was a young man who was “highly susceptible and gullible, if exposed to the influences of others”.

Mr Brolly said his client “played a subservient role” in the “spontaneous” robbery.

Passing sentence, Judge McFarland told McKee: “Clearly you have a low IQ ... and clearly you are easily suggestible.”

The judge added: “These types of shops are valuable to the community and serve the community well. The courts will protect owners and particularly the staff who work in these small corner-type shops.”