A farmer and his two sons have walked free from court after being handed suspended prison sentences for a campaign of "intimation and menace" on neighbours which included assaulting a pregnant woman.
Kenny Baxter (66), along with his sons Rory (34) and Paul (30), appeared at Antrim Crown Court yesterday where their 18-month prison terms were suspended for five years.
Judge Desmond Marrinan told the farmers, all from Feystown Road in Glenarm, that while they deserved to go to jail, they were needed to run their farm, despite all three being in ill-health.
He said the trio also deserved credit for entering guilty pleas which had saved the court time and expense and their victims the trauma of giving evidence.
Branding the Baxters "disgraceful and cowardly", the judge said they had created an atmosphere of "intimidation and menace towards your neighbours".
The farmers were sentenced for three separate incidents involving assaults against five people who were neighbours or linked to their neighbours.
At an earlier court date, they were convicted by a jury for one attack on mother -of-three Mary Reid.
They later admitted a second attack when she was five months pregnant in January 2012.
They also admitted the other attacks, with Paul Baxter admitting assaulting a 58-year-old woman who was seriously ill at the time and has since died.
Judge Marrinan said their "naked aggression" against two completely defenceless women, had been born out of a familiar Irish tale of pressure and tension over a land dispute.
The court heard the Baxters' farm shared the same laneway as two of their victims.
Prosecutor Neil Connor said that Mrs Reid had been left traumatised following the initial attack. He said her frail neighbour, Mary Mulvenna, who has since died, was so upset by the attack that she and her husband Cathal fled their home.
Mr Connor said while the attacks themselves were not the most serious "they really amounted to a campaign of intimidation, harassment and violence".
A family friend of one of the victims on leaving the court described the sentences as "a farce, unbelievable".
"You can get away with hitting women and children so long as you are sick," they said.
In handing down the suspended sentence, Judge Marrinan told the Baxters he would have no compunction in sending them to prison "for a very long time" if they attacked their neighbours again.
He banned them for the next two years from "harassing, interfering with or approaching" any of their victims or their families.