A judge has warned that “vigilantism will not be accepted by courts’’ after he sentenced five men over a mob attack on a man at his Co Down home.
James Dean Vance was jailed for six months as he had a previous record for violence while his four accused were handed down community service and probation orders.
Vance (35), of Springfield Road Belfast, was told by Judge Stephen Fowler QC that he will serve a further six months on supervised licence following his release from prison.
He and his brother Jonathan Paul Vance (34), of Eccles Street, along with Ryan Atkinson (28) of Bartley’s Cottage, Ballywalter, David Graeme Browne (25), of Killaughey Road, Donaghadee and James Orr (23), of Well Close, Ballywalter, all Co Down, had all pleaded guilty to a single charge of causing grievous bodily harm to Ian David Price.
The judge said all five had gone to Mr Price’s house “with the intention, first of all, of frightening Mr Price and also assaulting him’’.
But he said it was “implicit in the prosecution case that they did not intend to inflict the injuries which were inflicted upon Mr Price’’.
Downpatrick Crown Court had heard the five men, some of whom had their faces covered up, armed themselves with hammers, baseball bats and a screw driver to attack their victim over what was described as a “history of bad blood’’ between them.
The judge said the men had turned up at the house “in an aggressvie mood, armed with weapons and no doubt Mr Price had considerable fear for his bodily well-being.’’
During the opening of the case, prosecution lawyer Laura Ivers said Mr Price and his partner Lisa Gordon where at the home they shared at Bartley’s Wood in Ballywalter, Co Down on April 6, 2015.
She said the couple were asleep in bed when Mr Price heard a “commotion’’ shortly before 5 am and when he went to investigate he saw “several men coming up the stairs towards him’’..
“He recognised three of them as Dean Vance, his brother Paul Vance and Ryan Atkinson. He did not know the other two as they had their faces covered,’’ said Ms Ivers.
“Mr Price barricaded himself in an upstairs bedroom and pushed a wardrobe up against the door.’’
Mr Price climbed out of the window and fell onto the roof of a downstairs bathroom, injuring himself.
The court heard the five men pursued Mr Price as he tried to escape and cornered him in an alley way outside where Jonathan Paul Vance “struck him, felling him to the ground’’ with a hammer..
During the course of the assault, a screw driver, base balls and hammers were used and the prosecution lawyer said “all five men were involved in the assault’’ by way of joint enterprise.
“Dean Vance appeared to stab the victim with a screw driver,’’ she told the judge
The court heard that Lisa Gordon tried to shield her partner from any further attack by “laying herself over the top of his prostrate body and head’’ and shouted at the mob to ‘leave him alone’.
After the five man gang ran off, the couple managed to get back into their home and an ambulance was called.
Mr Price sustained puncture wounds to his lungs and needed a chest drain inserted. He also sustained injuries to his scalp and torso along with a fractured rib, right elbow and left ankle.
All five were later arrested by detectives. Atkinson gave a no comment interview while the other four claimed they were not involved in the assault and where elsewhere at the time.
But police used cell site analysis from mobile phones to track the movements of the mob along with DNA and fingerprint evidence.
The court heard that James Dean Vance had been convicted in 2006 of causing grievous bodily harm with intent and aggravated burglary. His brother had no criminal record while the other three defendants had “limited records’’.
Defence barristers for all five accused said they were all assessed by the probation service of being suitable for “enhanced combination orders’’.
Michael Boyd said Jonathan Paul Vance had been “drinking all weekend’’ and there had been a history of “bad blood’’ in the case with the injured party.
“He knows it was utterly wrong to get involved in this disgusting and nasty vigilante style behaviour and he apologises for it.
“He knows himself this case has crossed the custody threshold and that there is a distinct possibility of a custodial sentence hanging over him.’’
Barrister Richard McConkey for James Dean Vance said Ian Price had a “significant criminal record’’ and had threatened Vance, stating that on one occasion Price allegedly said of Vance: “We will get him when his kids go to school.’’
Passing sentence, Judge Fowler QC said “a number of allegations have been made before this court that Mr Price had been involved in numerous incidents involving these defendants which they have raised by way of explanation for their for conduct’’.
The judge added: “It has to be made clear by this court that viligantism is not accepted and will not be accepted.
“The situation is that the proper way to deal with these matters is not to take the law into their own hands but to report all such matters to the police. These defendants failed to do that.’’
Judge Fowler QC said that with the exception of James Dean Vance, his four accused appeared before the court with “records that do not include violence of this level. They have records but not relevant records.
“There is a distinction be drawn between these defendants and James Dean Vance who has a relevant criminal record. He has appeared in court for a section 18 violent assault and also aggravated burglary.’’
The judge said that all five had pleaded guilty to a “serious specified offence’’ but added that he “did not find that they posed a danger to the public or a serious risk to the public’’.
“In my view, this case is such that it would attract a custodial sentence. It was a serious assault, there were weapons brought, there were significant bodily injuries caused in this case. Accordingly, in my view it does pass the custody threshold in respect of each defendant’’.
The judge said that had Ryan Atkinson, Jonathan Paul Vance, David Browne and James orr, not spent periods of remand in custody of up to three months, “I would have sent them all to jail’’.
“However, because of their period in custody, because of the lack of significant violence on their records, I feel I can deal with them by means of enhanced combination orders.’’
All four agreed to carry out 100 hours community service and spend two years on probation.
“I have to warn you gentlemen that that is a programme that operates virtually zero tolerance in terms of failure to comply with all the requirements.
“You will be required to undertake any course the probation officer deems suitable for you in terms of reducing your alcohol consumption or any other course probation deem necessary for you. You will be required to attend all courses.
“Failure to do so you will be brought back for breach of that order and you will be brought back before me and I can tell you you will be jailed if there is a substantial breach that is established before me in evidence. Do you understand?’
All four defendants replied “Yes’’ from the dock.
Judge Fowler QC said he drew a distinction between them and James Dean Vance because of his previous convictions for violence and also “the persistence of his offending.....while on bail for this offence he committed a further offence of common assault’’.
The judge said he would impose a 12-month determinate custodial sentence which would be split equally between custody and probation.