KIERAN McLaughlin was today handed down an indeterminate custodial sentence with a minimum term of ten years for possession of firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life and possession of an imitation gun.
The 60-year-old, from the Galliagh area of Derry, was charged with the murder of Barry McCrory in Derry on 10 October 2013.
Mr McCrory was blasted to death at close range as he lay in bed at the flat belonging to his girlfriend in Shipquay Street.
McLaughlin was also charged with possession of a sawn-off shotgun and a pistol and ammunition with intent to endanger life and in suspicious circumstances and possession of an imitation firearm.
On 25 February 2015 he pleaded guilty to possession of the shotgun and pistol in suspicious circumstances.
On 27 March 2015, following a non-jury trial, Mr Justice Horner concluded that the charge of murder against the defendant had not been proven to the requisite standard and consequently found him not guilty.
The court was satisfied that the defendant was in possession of the firearms and ammunition with intent to cause others to believe that unlawful violence would be used against them and found him guilty on this count.
Mr Justice Horner said that substantial sentences are required in cases of gun crime, not just to deter the defendant from further offending with firearms but also to deter others who might be tempted to resort to firearms for their own “nefarious purposes”.
The court heard that the defendant has had a number of convictions for possession of firearms and ammunition dating from 1974, 1989, and 2011.
He also has three convictions for assault arising from an incident which occurred in prison on 9 June 2014.
The pre-sentence report prepared for the court noted that the defendant is presently in custody in the Care and Supervision Unit in HMP Maghaberry which accommodates prisoners who are under threat or who have been assessed as being at risk.
Prior to moving to this unit, the defendant was in Roe House, the unit which houses dissident republicans or “separated prisoners”, and he told his probation officer that he hopes to be able to return there at some stage in the future.
The court was also told that the defendant claims to have significant mental and emotional health problems, including anxiety and depression, although no medical report was before the court which dealt with these.
Mr Justice Horner said the lack of report meant that the court was unable to reach any informed conclusion about the defendant’s mental problems and how they have impacted upon his life in anything but a very general manner.
The judge referred to the sentencing regime under the Criminal Justice (NI) Order 2008 (“the 2008 Order”).
He said the court is required to consider whether the accused presents a danger to others by virtue of being a significant risk to members of the public of serious harm in the event that he were to commit offences of the same or similar nature in the future.
Mr Justice Horne said he was so satisfied for the following reasons:
- The defendant’s willingness to resort to the use of firearms on a regular and repeated basis throughout his adult life which led to a series of convictions;
- A complete absence of remorse or even an attempt at an explanation for his offending: “There is no hint that he regrets in any way his behaviour”;
- The circumstances of the offending which involved the defendant “arming himself to the teeth” when he knew he was wanted for questioning by the police and his intent was to use his arsenal to prevent capture;
- The real threat of serious violence as the defendant had in his possession a fully loaded sawn-off shotgun and ammunition – “such violence was avoided only be a last minute failure of nerve on the part of the defendant”; and
- The offending was committed while the defendant was on licence.
Mr Justice Horner said that in light of the above and the defendant’s attitude to his offending, the court had assessed the defendant as being highly likely to re-offend in a similar manner in the future:
“[The court] has no hesitation in concluding that this gives rise to a serious risk to members of the public of serious harm given the defendant’s willingness to resort to firearms when he deems it appropriate”.
Counsel for the defendant tried to persuade the court that he was no longer involved in terrorism or likely to re-offend in a similar way again, but Mr Justice Horner did not accept this.
“While in this case the defendant was not a member of a terrorist gang or carrying out terrorist related activities, he has demonstrated a continuing determination to offend in a most heinous manner.
“His willingness to arm himself and his apparent refusal to pay any attention to his past offending marks him out as a determined recidivist who refuses to mend his ways.
“As a consequence the public is and will remain at a very significant risk of serious harm should he be released. In the circumstances an extended custodial sentence is not sufficient to meet the risk that he poses.
“An indeterminate custodial sentence in these circumstances is not disproportionate against the present factual matrix.”
Mr Justice Horner said he considered the range for the type of offending in this case to be 10-14 years.
He referred to the following aggravated factors:
- The defendant’s deplorable record for similar offending.
- His complete lack of remorse.
- The circumstances of the offending which involved a loaded shotgun in direct response to the lawful intention of the police to apprehend the defendant. There was a second weapon present, although it was not loaded. Although both these firearms were in a locked car, it was a car to which the defendant had the sole means of access.
- The shotgun was modified by having its barrels sawn-off.
- The case was contested and no meaningful explanation has been given as to how the defendant obtained and came into possession of the shotgun and other weapons.
- The offending was committed while the defendant was on licence.
“The defendant was caught red-handed and he did what was the bear minimum he could in those circumstances.
“He pleaded guilty to the lesser offence. He has been found guilty of the two more serious offences having contested them.”
Mr Justice Horner imposed a minimum term of 10 years for the offence of possession of firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life and a minimum term of 2½ years for the offence of possession of the imitation firearm.
He ordered that this period will include time served and is concurrent to the ten year term.