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Judge warns missing Derry defendant he'd better turn up for sentencing

By Ashleigh McDonald

Published 27/06/2015

Judge hitting gavel
Judge hitting gavel

A Londonderry man who chose not to attend his own trial has been cleared of setting fire to a PSNI car with the intention of endangering the lives of two police officers.

James McLaughlin (32), from Glenshane Road in Feeny, faced charges arising from an incident at the home he shares with his parents on September 8, 2012.

He chose not to attend his own trial and was not represented in court by a legal team.

However, after being acquitted of some charges but found guilty of others, Judge Gordon Kerr QC said it would be "in the interests of the defendant" to attend Belfast Crown Court next Tuesday, ahead of sentencing.

McLaughlin initially faced a total of five charges - setting fire to a police car with intent to endanger life, attempting to set fire to a second police vehicle with intent, issuing threats to kill two police officers, and also possessing a hurley stick with the intention of assaulting police.

McLaughlin denied all five charges, and earlier this week an additional two charges relating to the two police vehicles - arson and attempted arson - were added to the bill of indictment.

During the two-day trial the jury of 10 men and two women heard evidence from four police officers who were despatched to McLauglin's Feeny home.

The jury heard that police were called after McLaughlin had a row with his mother over her not giving him money to go out clubbing in Limavady.

All four officers said that when they arrived they were greeted by a bare-chested McLaughlin, who was brandishing a hurley. He also had a lighter and a petrol can and was issuing threats.

It was the Crown case that McLaughlin then poured petrol over one police vehicle which took hold very quickly and which endangered the lives of two of the officers, while he made an attempt to set fire to the second police car.

After listening to the evidence, Judge Kerr ruled that on the grounds neither of the officers were in the car when it was set alight, and that all four officers could move away from them, he directed the jury to find McLaughlin not guilty by direction on the charges of arson with intent to endanger life and attempted arson with intent to endanger life.

During the trial the Crown made the case that the hurley being wielded by McLaughlin was an offensive weapon and was being possessed with intent to assault police, but the jury found McLaughlin not guilty.

McLaughlin - who had a clear criminal record - was also charged with two counts of threatening to kill two of the officers. While he was found not guilty on one of the counts, the jury failed to reach a verdict on the second.

When the foreman told Judge Kerr that the jury was split on this charge and was unlikely to reach a verdict, he discharged them.

The jury found McLaughlin guilty of two charges - those of arson and attempted arson.

It emerged during the trial that when he was interviewed by police he admitted pouring petrol over one car but denied targeting the second.

Following the verdicts, Judge Kerr dismissed the jury and asked the prosecutor to consider if the Crown would be seeking to re-try the second threat to kill charge.

Judge Kerr also said: "It would be in the interests of the defendant to attend court next Tuesday."

Granting McLaughlin continuing bail, Judge Kerr warned that if McLaughlin failed to attend court next Tuesday, he may "consider whether it is necessary" to issue an arrest warrant.

Belfast Telegraph

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