Northern Ireland

Union flag protest riot sentences 'too lenient'

Suspended sentences for two Belfast union flag protest rioters were too lenient, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Robert McKeown and Stephen Ferris were each handed new 18-month terms, half of which will be spent in prison.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said deterrent sentences were required for those involved in mob violence.

The court refused to interfere with the suspended term imposed on another rioter, Edward Lynn, a former soldier who served in Afghanistan.

All three were convicted earlier this year for their roles in separate outbreaks of public disorder after the decision to limit the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall.

Missiles

McKeown, 27, of Whincroft Road, Belfast, received an 18-month prison sentence, suspended for three years, for throwing missiles at police during the first outbreak of violence in the east of the city on 3 December, 2012.

Lynn, 22, from Fenaghy Park, Galgorm, Ballymena, County Antrim, was handed a 15-month suspended term for being part of a crowd that attacked police in the same area the following month.

Wearing a Glasgow Rangers scarf as a mask, he was seen on CCTV footage hurling masonry.

Ferris, 19, of Matilda Gardens, Belfast, was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for three years for rioting in east Belfast a week later.

He threw a golf ball at a policewoman and was part of a crowd hurling missiles into the nationalist Short Strand area, the court heard.

Northern Ireland's Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory QC, appealed the sentences, claiming they were unduly lenient.

He argued that all three men should receive tougher and more deterrent punishment.

Delivering judgment, Sir Declan, sitting with Lord Justice Coghlin and Mr Justice Horner, said a significant number of people, usually men, continued to be part of violent mob activity on the streets of Northern Ireland.

"Such persistent criminal conduct, spread as it is across our community, inevitably requires a deterrent sentencing framework," he said.

"Those who chose to participate by presence and encouragement had the option of walking away.

"Those who actually used violence did so as part of the violent disorder. Their conduct cannot be viewed in isolation."

Deterrent sentences should only be suspended in highly exceptional circumstances, while credit will be limited for guilty pleas made in the face of compelling video evidence, Sir Declan said.

In both McKeown and Ferris' cases he held that the sentences were unduly lenient.

Both were given new 18-month terms, half in custody or detention and half on licence, with immediate effect.

However, judges refused to interfere with Lynn's sentence after setting out his experiences as a Territorial Army solder with a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

He had an exemplary service record and now suffers from an adjustment disorder as part of post-traumatic symptoms.

Dismissing the prosecution application against Lynn on the basis of his particular circumstances, Sir Declan said: "We must take into account, however, that this young man as a teenager was exposed to horrendous violence during the period of his Army service which has required continuing counselling that affected his ability to control his actions."