Belfast Telegraph

Career criminals: What can be done with man who has 227 convictions?

The unrelenting recidivist making ass of the law for two decades

BY CHRIS KILPATRICK

He first appeared in a courtroom dock at the age of just 17.

Now 39, Patrick James Morgan has racked up 227 convictions – an average of one for every month of his life.

He is just one of scores of serial offenders throughout Northern Ireland that the justice system appears incapable of dealing with.

Morgan, like the majority of his cohorts, has been made amenable mostly for relatively low-level offences.

One person who knows him from the Co Derry village of Ballykelly where he lives, said the most recent charges that he has faced are among the most serious to date.

In all of the 227 convictions he has racked up over two decades, seven are understood to have been for assault.

More than half were motoring offences. Indeed, he is currently banned from driving.

"He's just a rogue," one source said. "It's a vicious circle with Morgan. Nothing really jumps out when you look back at his record.

"He just can't help himself."

No one else we spoke to in Ballykelly claimed to know Morgan. Strange, given he is said to have spent his entire life there.

Even neighbours in the Churchill Road area of the village, where he was last living, knew nothing of him.

But those involved in maintaining law and order know him all too well. On Monday he again appeared at Derry's Magistrates Court, this time round for four assault charges and a series of driving offences, alleged to have occurred last October.

The court was told Morgan kicked his girlfriend in the head, having arrived at her house drunk.

She was taken away in an ambulance, with Morgan said to have fled.

When police called at his home nearby they found him asleep.

A car matching the description given by a witness was parked outside, it was claimed, and a key to the vehicle was in Morgan's pocket.

Police objected to bail over concerns Morgan would abscond. He was remanded in custody to appear before court next month.

Retired police inspector Norman Hamill served for 30 years in the same district in which Morgan has carved out his criminal career. Mr Hamill said having to repeatedly bring offenders like Morgan before the court was extremely frustrating.

Mr Hamill retired in 2001, when Morgan was already well-known to police and the courts. The former RUC man said: "Having to deal with the same offender time after time after time can be extremely frustrating for a police officer, although you have to maintain a professional manner and just do your job and leave the courts to do theirs.

"With road-related crimes, often when the offender reaches their mid-20s the offending has dropped drastically or even stopped.

"But if someone is still coming to police attention when they are almost 40 years of age, then they are clearly making an ass of the law, and a tougher approach should be taken.

"When the offence that is being repeatedly committed is something like drink-driving or assault or domestic violence, the offender needs to be taken out of circulation for an extensive period.

"A drunk driver on the road is clearly a danger to everyone else on that road, and if they have a history of violence too, then it is completely reasonable for society to expect to be protected."

MLAs back crackdown on career criminals

A hard core of career criminals are clogging up Northern Ireland's courts and costing the criminal justice system tens of millions of pounds every year.

Calls were last night made for an urgent rethink on how serial offenders are dealt with, including the prospect of indeterminate sentences for those who continuously flout the law.

The problems facing our justice system were highlighted this week by the case of Patrick James Morgan, who appeared in court with 227 previous convictions.

The Co Londonderry man's criminal career spans 22 years, with Morgan first coming to the attention of the authorities at the age of 17.

An investigation by the Belfast Telegraph unearthed dozens of similar cases, including that of Malvern Dobbin, who is among the worst offenders in the province with more than 400 convictions.

Stormont MLAs last night called for an urgent review into how offenders are dealt with.

"There are people who get conviction after conviction after conviction who end up in prison for short periods of time, and therein lies the problem," Alliance MLA and justice committee member Stewart Dickson said.

"I think there isn't enough recognition of the rehabilitation needs of these people and they are treated as one-off criminals each time they enter through the doors of a prison.

"We need to research more effective ways of tackling the problem than just putting them through the turnstiles of a prison."

DUP MLA Lord Morrow, whose office was ransacked by burglars in 2012, said tougher sentencing was needed as a deterrent.

"My case is no different to the thousands of other people across Northern Ireland who have been the victim of crime, and we see many of these crimes committed by repeat and habitual offenders," he said.

"It is clear that current approaches are not working.

"To deliver justice for the victims of crimes and to cut the cost to society it is vital that such offenders are tackled and receive punishments which reflect their pattern of behaviour."

TUV leader Jim Allister said persistent offenders such as Morgan should be considered for prolonged periods behind bars until they are no longer deemed a blight on society.

"While these offences on their own do not warrant an indeterminate sentence, although they are serious enough in themselves, it is the element of repetition that takes this up a level. It is the repeat, repeat, repeat aspect," he said.

Mr Allister called on Justice Minister David Ford to bring the issue before the Assembly for further debate.

Academic Dr Jonny Byrne, who lectures in criminology at the University of Ulster, said once in the criminal system, some offenders find it extremely difficult to escape.

He said he wasn't convinced indeterminate sentencing would provide a solution.

"The system can't take the numbers and there are those who will continue to clog up the system," he said. "How they are supported outside that system is also so important. It's about employment, education, welfare.

"You will always have those calling for more punitive sentencing, but that isn't necessarily the answer. It depends on the individual, the community they come from in terms of the support and networks, and the circumstances they are going back into."

Last year Mr Ford announced a province-wide initiative aimed at tackling reoffending.

A spokesman for his department said it was showing signs of success.

"The Reducing Offending in Partnership (ROP) approach to engaging and managing prolific offenders in the community is making a significant impact on reducing offending in our community, reducing levels of offending by 58%," he said.

"Since March 2013, officers in the Reducing Offending units working in partnership with the Probation Board, Youth Justice Agency and Prison Service are in a position to positively support prolific offenders and help them desist from future offending by harnessing the services of both statutory and voluntary and community organisations."

He also pointed to ongoing prison reforms designed to support the rehabilitation of offenders.

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