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Man convicted of raping woman while on release from prison has sentence reduced

By Alan Erwin

A man convicted of raping a woman while on release from prison has won an appeal against his nine-year jail term.

Senior judges in Belfast reduced James Taggart's sentence by two years after backing defence claims that the original period was manifestly excessive.

Taggart was aged 17 when he attacked the 19-year-old woman in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh in February 2012.

The victim returned to his house after they met in a bar, but insisted she made it clear there would be no sex.

She gave evidence that Taggart "flipped" after being told she wanted to go to sleep.

He throttled the woman before taking her clothes off and raping her, his trial heard.

The woman said she could hardly breathe and feared for her life during the ordeal.

Taggart, now aged 22 and with a former address at Kingsmere Gardens in Derry, denied the attack and claimed the pair had consensual sex.

However, a jury found him guilty of rape and common assault.

The crimes were committed while he was out on licence for a previous assault.

Imposing a nine-year prison sentence, followed by a further two years on licence, the trial judge cited the use of violence as one of the aggravating features.

But lawyers for Taggart argued that jail term was manifestly excessive and wrong in principle.

In a judgment delivered in January but only now published, the Court of Appeal said the starting point on the sentencing process had been too high.

Lord Justice Weir acknowledged the violence used was an aggravating factor, he identified no act before or after the rape described by the trial judge as "mercifully brief".

He said there was substance in defence submissions that it had been "a single impulsive act".

"The complainant said in her ABE (Achieving Best Evidence) interview that after the rape the accused kept saying he was sorry and cried and that he had offered to get her a taxi," the appeal judge added.

Ruling that the starting point should have been five years, Lord Justice Weir said that with the degree of violence and with Taggart being on home release when the offences were committed he should have received a seven-year term.

The judge confirmed: "We do not interfere with the extended licence period of two years, so that the extended custodial sentence will consist of a custodial element of seven years followed by an extended period of licence of two years' duration."

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