A 25-year-old Belfast man was handed a four-year sentence on Thursday for threatening to “blow a taxi driver’s brains out” at gunpoint.
Lee Hosie, a father of one from Melford Drive in the city, was told by Judge Piers Grant that his actions in December 2012 were both hostile and sectarian, and had left a lasting effect on the driver he threatened.
Hosie - who continues to deny the offences despite being found guilty by a jury in a trial held in January - was informed that he will spend half his sentence in custody, with the remaining two years on licence when he is released from prison.
Passing sentence, Judge Grant told Belfast Crown Court: “Taxi drivers criss-cross the city whilst performing their work, and they serve both sides of the community by providing as essential service to the public. They work alone, and often at night, when they are vulnerable to violence and abuse.”
During the week-long trial, the Catholic taxi driver told the jury he thought he was going to die on the evening in question, when he was asked by his passenger Hosie whether he was “a Prod or a Taig”.
The incident occurred on December 4, 2012 - the same night that experienced the first disorder linked to the protests over the flying of the Union Flag at City Hall.
The taxi driver picked Hosie up from Ross House in Mount Vernon and was told to go to Donegall Pass.
During the journey, Hosie was on his phone and at one point talked about going over to east Belfast as the “Provies had fired a shot from the Short Strand”.
The taxi driver said that after finishing the first call, Hosie started asking if he was “a Prod or a Taig” but the taxi driver refused to reveal his religion, telling Hosie he was a man trying to earn a living.
When he was driving alongside the Metropolitan College, he had to break heavily as the traffic lights changed - and it was at this point that he heard a “dull thud” on the floor, looked into the passenger footwell and saw a gun at Hosie’s feet.
The driver said: “He bent down and picked it up and put it back inside his coat and told me to mind my own business.”
He continued on to Donegall Pass and when he got to Rainey Way, Hosie got out of the taxi and approached two men in the street.
Hosie then returned to the car, pointed a gun at him and threatened to shoot him.
Saying that he initially believed Hosie was returning to pay his fare, the driver said Hosie stood two feet from the car and pointed the gun in his face.
The taxi driver said: “He said he was going to blow my f****** brains out. He said that only for the fact he had so few bullets he would have f****** shot me.”
The driver said he then heard one of the men in the street telling Hosie to “wind his neck in” as they had “more important things to do”.
The driver then drove away and notified the depot, which in turn informed the PSNI.
Hosie was subsequently charged with possessing a firearm or intimidation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, threatening to kill the taxi driver, and making off without paying the £6.60 fare.
He admitted a charge of possessing cannabis, after around £100 worth of the drug was found during a search of his home.
During the trial, Hosie’s barrister Ian Turkington made the case that whilst his client admitted being a passenger in the taxi, and being “rude, obnoxious and quite disgusting” to the driver, he didn’t have a gun.
Prior to sentence being passed by Judge Grant, Mr Turkington spoke of his client’s difficult upbringing and revealed that Hosie suffers a range of mental health difficulties, including being born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome.
The barrister said that, since December 2012, Hosie is now a “more mature individual” who recently became a father.