‘Extreme disappointment’ that DPP will not make appeal of ‘unduly lenient sentences’ for seven Continuity IRA men

UUP Justice Spokesman Doug Beattie has said he is “extremely disappointed” that the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland has decided not to appeal the sentencing of a number of dissident republicans on the grounds that they were unduly lenient.

By Philip Bradfield
Wednesday, 16th December 2020, 2:51 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th December 2020, 4:01 pm
Liam Hannaway. one of seven dissidents jailed.  He will serve at least five years.
Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Liam Hannaway. one of seven dissidents jailed. He will serve at least five years. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

Last month Mr Beattie called for an overhaul of sentencing after what police called “one of the most significant terrorism cases in recent times” saw seven Continuity IRA members jailed — but with none getting more than five years.

The seven were held after an MI5 bugging operation in Newry in 2014, and were sentenced in Belfast last month. All admitted charges such as providing weapons training and preparing acts of terror.

The recordings uncovered plots such as targeting a prison governor out walking.Last month the Public Prosecution Service said it was considering whether there was a legal basis to refer the sentences handed down in this case to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that they may be unduly lenient.

UUP Justice Spokesman Doug Beattie. Photo: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Mr Beattie last month contrasted the NI sentences with that of Larne man Ciarán Maxwell from Larne, who got 18 years at the Old Bailey in 2017 for terror offences. “Had he been tried in Northern Ireland he would likely have got about seven years,” Mr Beattie said.

However, despite a written appeal by Mr Beattie, today the PPS confirmed it would not be appealing the sentences for the seven CIRA men.

A PPS spokeswoman said the Director of Public Prosecutions found no basis to refer the sentences to the Court of Appeal for a review.

”While sentencing is a matter for the judiciary, the Director of Public Prosecutions has the power to refer particular sentences to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that they may be unduly lenient,” she said. “The sentence will only be found to be unduly lenient if it is one that is outside the range of sentences a judge could reasonably have imposed, having regard to the relevant law and sentencing guidelines.

“These are serious offences, and it was entirely proper that the sentences received careful consideration as to the potential for referral to the Court of Appeal. The Trial Judge handed down a detailed written judgment which set out the process by which sentences were reached. Having carefully considered all of the relevant circumstances of the case, and with the benefit of advice from Senior Counsel, the Director has concluded that there is no basis to refer any of the sentences imposed to the Court of Appeal.

“The Director received correspondence from Doug Beattie MLA in relation to this matter and earlier this week wrote to him explaining the reasons for the decisions. We would be happy to meet with Mr Beattie to explain the legal basis for these decisions in more detail if he wishes.”

Mr Beattie said he was extremely disappointed by the response.

”Last month at Belfast Crown Court, on 13 November 2020, a number of men were convicted of very serious terrorist offences including belonging to a proscribed organisation, providing weapons and explosives training, conspiring to possess explosives, firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life and preparing acts of terrorism including plots to kill and make bombs,” he said. “And for this, the seven men involved got a total of 33 years.

“I wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland to raise my concerns and urge him to do all in his power to ensure that these sentences are reviewed and replaced with ones that fit the crimes committed, as a matter of urgency.

“I have now received his response and I am extremely disappointed that he has decided this case is not one where he should exercise the power to refer sentences to the Court of Appeal on the basis that they were unduly lenient.

“It is hard to think of more serious offences in a democracy. Where else in Europe would a group of fascists seeking to overthrow the State and murder police officers and State officials, be indulged like this?

“I simply cannot accept that these sentences are either a punishment or a deterrent. In my view they are the absolute opposite, and will act as a very clear and obvious encouragement to anyone else seeking to follow the same terrorist path, and as such they are incredibly dangerous.

“Clearly the MI5 led operation to thwart the activities of these terrorists was a major one, and very expensive in terms of cost and personnel required. In my opinion such a significant operation deserved to see significant sentences.”

The defendents

The defendants pleaded guilty at Belfast Crown Court to charges arising from a MI5 surveillance operation against the Continuity IRA in Newry in 2014.

Patrick Joseph ‘Mooch’ Blair, 65, of Lissara Heights, Warrenpoint, Joseph Matthew Lynch, 79, of Beechgrove Avenue, Weston, Co Limerick, Liam Hannaway, 50, of White Rise, Dunmurry, John Sheehy, 36, of Erskine Street, Newry and Colin Patrick Winters, 49, of Ardcarn Park, Newry, all pleaded guilty to charges of belonging or professing to belong to a proscribed organisation, providing weapons and explosives training, conspiring to possess explosives, firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

They further admitted preparing acts of terrorism. Blair, Hannaway and Winters admitted collecting information of use to terrorists.

Sheehy further pleaded guilty to attending a meeting at Ardcarn Park for the purposes of terrorist training. Winters also admitted to allowing his Ardcarn Park home to be used for a terror meeting.

The court previously heard that Winters died in August.

As well as admitting he received weapons training, Joseph Lynch pleaded guilty to two counts of attending a meeting for terror purposes.

Seamus Morgan, 64, of Barcroft Park, Newry, Kevin John Paul Heaney, 47, of Blackstaff Mews, Springfield Road in West Belfast and Terence Marks, 60, of Parkhead Crescent, Newry, admitted belonging to a proscribed group.

Marks also admitted to a further charge of receiving training in the making or use of explosives for terror.

The offences took place between August 11, 2014 and November 11, 2014.

‘Mooch’ Blair and Hannaway received five years in jail and were also found to pose a danger to the public in the future because of their past terrorist convictions.

Passing sentence on the pair, Mr Justice Colton said neither man had disavowed “dissident republican activity’’.

The judge said that it was evident from the tape recordings that both men played “significant and leading roles’’ at those meetings of the Continuity IRA. He told the two-hour sentencing hearing that after serving five years in jail, it would be up to the Parole Commissioners to decide if it was safe to release them.

Mr Justice Colton told Belfast Crown Court that the contents of the discussions which included plots to kill and make bombs made for “grim and depressing reading’’.

He added that “all right thinking people and law abiding citizens believe that the days of shootings, killings and explosions are in the past”.

Although the defendants faced only conspiracy charges, Mr Justice Colton said the plots had been “thwarted’’ when police raided the meeting house in Newry’s Ardcarn Park on November 10, 2014.

The court heard that the secret recordings revealed:

:: a plot to target a prison governor out walking in Co Down

:: a plot to target police

:: robbery plots on homes for cash an legally-held firearms

:: frustrations at the lack of weapons, ammunition, low membership numbers and finances to fund its terror

:: training of individuals in pipe bombs and firearms

It was the prosecution case that ‘Mooch’ Blair was the leader of the Continuity IRA while Hannaway was his number two. The third was Joseph ‘Tiny’ Lynch.

Mr Justice Colton said Lynch had now cut all ties with dissident republican activity, had pleaded guilty to “serious and specified” offences but that he did not believe he posed a future danger.

Lynch got a six and a half year term, with three years and three months in custody and the remainder on licence. John Sheehy was handed a six year sentence — half in custody and half on licence.

Terence Marks, who received instructions in the use of explosives, was told he would serve two years in jail followed by two on licence.

Kevin Heaney was handed a three and a half year sentence, divided equally between custody and probation.

Seamus Morgan, who was jailed in 1975 for an explosion in Newry, was given 18 months in custody followed by 18 months on licence.

All defendants were made subject of counter-terror notifications, from ten years to 30 years.

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