Penning is right to say Maxwell’s jail term is too lenient

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
Share this article

Speaking about the sentence handed down to the treacherous ex Royal Marine and calculated terrorist Ciaran Maxwell, the former armed forces minister Mike Penning said this:

“With an 18-year sentence, he may well be out in six years. This cannot be allowed to happen. He is a very dangerous terrorist.”

Mr Henning, who is a Conservative MP, is calling on the attorney general to review Maxwell’s prison term.

How refreshing it is to hear a senior politician speak in this way. Last week, the News Letter also commented in this column that thought the sentence was on the light side.

He has not been fooled by the notion that 18 years is a long sentence. Eighteen years would be a reasonable sentence if it meant actually serving 18 years in prison, so that Maxwell, who is aged 31, was detained until 49.

That would be not a moment less than he deserves, given the gravity of his crimes. But few convicts serve more than half their term and nine years is woefully inadequate time behind bars for offences as grave as those Maxwell committed.

But Mr Penning fears that time served might be less even than nine years, which would be pitifully inadequate.

Yet all of these prison sentences, even six or nine years, would be harsh by the standards of some of the disgracefully lenient terms handed out by courts in Northern Ireland to dangerous dissident republican terrorists. Bail policy in Northern Ireland is also disturbingly soft, with people on serious terrorist charges granted bail as a matter of course.

The dissident threat is high at the moment, as the incident in which a pipe bomb was thrown into the house of a woman in Strabane on Monday showed.

Policing and justice in the Province is so contentious that the assembly has been unable to agree on an appropriately robust security and sentencing response to such terrorism. This is one reason why a spell of direct rule might be no bad thing – but only if the Tory government actually was prepared to tighten up bail and sentencing policy.