Man jailed for stealing car with children inside

A 36-year-old man who stole a car with two children on board from a busy Belfast retail park has been handed a three-year sentence.

Wednesday, 22nd November 2017, 10:59 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 2:21 am

Martin McDonagh will serve half his sentence behind bars followed by the same period on licence when he is released.

Judge Patricia Smyth spoke of the emotional impact the “terrifying” incident has had on those affected by his actions.

Belfast Crown Court heard that as the car thief was in the process of stealing the vehicle, the owner – and the mother of the children inside – was assaulted and dragged along the road as she tried to stop it being taken.

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McDonagh, who has the mental age of someone aged between six and nine, also assaulted a man who gave chase as he drove away and who managed to grab the keys from the ignition.

Judge Smyth said while there was “no suggestion” McDonagh intented to harm the children, who at the time were aged 10 years and 18 months, the eldest child later expressed fears she would never see her mother again.

The judge also pointed out that the incident, which occurred around 5.30pm on Saturday February 25, took place just 12 days after McDonagh had been released on licence for a previous offence.

The father of three, from Ardmoulin Terrace in Belfast, was drunk and had taken a concoction of drugs when he got into the Vauxhall Golf. The car was parked outside Sports Direct at the Boucher Retail Park with the engine running and the keys in the ignition.

He later claimed he thought the car was his sister’s, and he took it as he believed she had been driving round Belfast whilst drunk – a claim rejected by both the court and the judge.

The motorist left the engine running while she popped into a store, and as she was leaving and making her way back to her car, she saw McDonagh getting into it and reversing.

Her 10-year-old daughter was in the front seat, while her year-and-a-half old son was in the back.

She ran to the car and grabbed McDonagh’s arm but she was pushed to the ground by him and was then dragged a short distance as the car was being driven away.

The incident was witnessed by a number of people, one of whom ran after the departing Golf. He was able to catch up with the car, open the driver’s door and grab the keys from the ignition.

McDonagh took a swing at and missed the man. He did however grab the man by the throat – in full view of girl in the front seat passenger.

He then fled the scene but was apprehended a short distance away at a car dealership.

McDonagh – who appeared in court with 32 previous convictions – later admitted nine charges which included child abduction, dangerous driving and driving while unfit.

A defence barrister said at the time McDonagh was heavily under the influence of drink and drugs.