Belfast Telegraph

Carroll sentence sent to Court of Appeal

By Steven McCaffery

A 14-year jail term handed to a member of a gang that killed a policeman in Northern Ireland was today referred to the Court of Appeal by the region's director of public prosecutions.

This came hours after the judge in Constable Stephen Carroll's murder trial said he would back a review of the sentencing guidelines that he was obliged to follow in the case.

The officer's widow, Kate, had hit out after John Paul Wootton, 21, who drove the getaway car, was sentenced to a minimum of 14 years by Lord Justice Paul Girvan, on the basis of factors including that Wootton was under 18 at the time.

The jail term was 11 years less than that handed to Brendan McConville, 41, also convicted of the killing and whose coat may have been wrapped around the murder weapon.

The judge today detailed how the sentence he handed down last week was dictated by guidelines that remain in place in Northern Ireland, but which have been overtaken in England where killers face potentially tougher sentences.

In the wake of Lord Justice Girvan's clarification of the guidelines that shaped his decision, the Public Prosecution Service confirmed it was ordering that the sentence be reviewed.

A spokeswoman said: "In view of the clarification by Lord Justice Girvan this morning, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory QC, will refer the sentencing in this case to the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal.

"Careful consideration is being given to the terms of the reference which will be made within the statutory 28 days."

Constable Carroll, 48, was shot dead by the dissident republican Continuity IRA in Craigavon, County Armagh, in March 2009.

The murder came two days after two British soldiers were murdered in a Real IRA gun attack outside their barracks in Antrim.

Pc Carroll died of a single gunshot wound to the head as he sat in an unmarked police car while colleagues attended a 999 call.

The officer, from Banbridge, County Down, was the first policeman killed by republican terrorists since the peace process reforms which saw the Royal Ulster Constabulary replaced by the new-look Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

Outside the court, Mrs Carroll and her family had questioned the sentence handed to Wootton, noting that in England a possible minimum sentence of 30 years can be handed to those who kill policemen.

Lawyers for McConville, of Aldervale, Tullygally in Craigavon, and Wootton, of Collingdale, Lurgan, County Armagh, had presented mitigating factors to the judge.

Wootton was also convicted of collecting information for the use of terrorism, after trying to obtain the address of another policeman weeks before the murder.

His mother Sharon Wootton was handed a 12-month suspended sentence for removing computers linked to her son from their home.

Mrs Carroll said of John Paul Wootton's sentence: "I am actually disgusted, the full intent was there, he has shown no remorse."

She added: "It gives the message out that it is fine to kill a policeman here because you get a small rap on the knuckles, whereas in England you get the full term.

"Justice has been done? Not for us it has not. Stephen is still in his grave."

Lord Justice Girvan returned to court to expand on the reasons for his sentencing and said he was "bound by and obliged" to follow guidelines and directions, including special rules for setting minimum jail terms for those aged under 18.

"The accused Wootton fell within that provision," he said.

"Those guidelines have been the subject matter of a large number of judicial rulings to which a sentencing judge is bound to pay regard.

"The tariffs in this case were fixed following and applying those guidelines and consequent case law.

"A logical and proper application of the guidelines in the court's view led inexorably to the tariffs fixed in this case.

"Trial judges are not free to act in accordance with their own unfettered viewpoint but in accordance with the prescribed framework of sentencing law established by the guidelines and the case law."

The judge said the rules had been altered in England by the creation of a new statutory framework introducing longer tariffs, though the new system does not apply in Northern Ireland.

He added: "It is open to the Director of Public Prosecutions to refer the matter to the Court of Appeal.

"This is the only permissible route whereby the guidelines can be reviewed."

Lord Justice Girvan said: "As the sentencing judge I would welcome such a reference."

He added: "Insofar as it is open to a trial judge to express a view questioning the continued validity of the existing guidelines, as the trial judge in this case I feel bound to express the view that the current guidelines and the case law based on them do require reconsideration, to take account of modern conditions and to properly take into account the argument that there is a heightened need for deterrence and retribution in the fixing of tariffs, at least in relation to certain categories of murder including, in particular, the terrorist murder of a police officer as occurred in the present case."

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