Five 'vigilantes' who forced folk musician Francis McPeake from home avoid jail
Five people who were part of a mob that forced traditional Irish musician Francis McPeake from his home have been given suspended prison sentences.
The four women and one man appeared in the dock of Belfast Crown Court and were told by Judge Gordon Kerr QC that vigilantism and "mindless mob" activity could not be tolerated.
All five, from the Markets area of the city, were part of a group that gathered outside the musician's house in September 2013 following claims of child sex abuse which Mr McPeake was later unanimously cleared of.
The mob pelted the pensioner's home with stones, eggs and other missiles. Five grandchildren staying in the property at the time had to be removed by the police for their own safety.
Eileen Murdock (48), from Eliza Street Close, and 30-year old Danielle Whyte, from Stewart Street, both denied a charge of intimidating Mr McPeake from his home, but both were found guilty at an earlier trial.
Colleen McNally (37), Sarah Bruce (44) and her 50-year-old partner Paul Quinn, all from Stewart Street, pleaded guilty to the same charge. Quinn and McNally also admitted damaging Mr McPeake's car.
Telling all five that their actions as part of the "mindless mob" were totally unacceptable, Mr Kerr said the McPeake family had been left "clearly terrified by this behaviour of throwing items, shouting threats and chanting".
Addressing each of the five defendants, the judge said that apart from the incident, they were "law-abiding and hard-working members of society".
Turning to Bruce, he branded her "one of the main instigators". Revealing that the mother-of-four had tried to minimise her role and had been served with an eviction notice as a result of the attack, Judge Kerr handed her a nine-month sentence, suspended for two years.
Bruce's partner Quinn, who has since described the incident as the biggest mistake of his life, was given a 15-month custodial sentence, again suspended for two years.
Murdock, a former next door neighbour of Mr McPeake who was heard to shout insults including "paedophile" during the incident, was given nine months' jail, suspended for nine months.
Whyte was also handed a nine-month sentence, suspended for two years. While she was described as being part of the crowd shouting abuse, Judge Kerr said that despite not accepting the guilty verdict, she had since displayed some victim awareness.
The court heard McNally was a "leading participant" who was present throughout the intimidation, shouting abuse and encouraging others to do so.
After admitting two charges, the mother-of-three was handed a 12-month sentence, which was suspended for two years.
After passing sentence, Judge Kerr warned all five to stay out of trouble for the next two years or face going to jail.
Before releasing them from the dock, he said "vigilante justice has no place in our society" and added that "such behaviour cannot be tolerated".
After remarking that all the defendants should be "thoroughly ashamed" of themselves, Judge Kerr said they were free to go.