A man convicted in relation to a dissident republican bomb attempt escaped prison yesterday.
Conal Corbett was given an 18-month suspended sentence for four serious offences including possessing items for terrorist-related offences and making records of information for terrorism.
The judge at Belfast Crown Court heard that he was not involved in preparation or placing of the device, which was planted in north Belfast last year. But the bomb had the potential to kill police officers.
It is alarming that this has not resulted in a custodial sentence. If terrorist murder was treated even remotely as seriously as it should be in the UK, offenders would have a minimum tariff (ie time actually served) of at least 40 years. Even that would be a light sentence in the eyes of many people who think that premeditated murder deserves execution.
If appropriate sentencing prevailed, then attacks that might lead to murder would also attract minimum jail terms of decades behind bars. Even a low level of active complicity in such a heinous crime would attract a prison term of several years, albeit a much shorter term than that given to the ringleaders.
Nelson McCausland MLA is entirely right to say that it is important that society sends out “a clear message to terrorists, and to the wider community, that terrorism is unacceptable, will be dealt with seriously”.
He is also right to point out that longer sentencing keeps dangerous terrorists off the streets for a longer period of time.
But this is nowhere near happening in Northern Ireland.
The judge pointed out that Corbett had spent seven months on remand. Thank goodness that at least bail was denied in such a serious matter, which again is a reflection of the seriousness of the charges.
Dissidents recently protested and claimed that they suffered a policy of internment. In truth they enjoy a policy of barely fettered freedom, routine acquittals, light sentences if they do get convicted and easy conditions in prison.