Mob who forced traditional Irish musician Francis McPeake from his home avoid jail
Five people from the Markets area of Belfast who were part of a mob that forced traditional Irish musician Francis McPeake from his home were today told "you all should be thoroughly ashamed of yourselves."
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 cannot be tolerated in society.
All five were handed jail terms for the roles they played in an incident on the evening of September 14, 2013 which led to Mr McPeake being forced from his home by a crowd that gathered outside his Markets home.
A large crowd gathered in the area following reports in a local newspaper that Mr McPeake was facing child sex abuse allegations. The pensioner subsequently stood trial on a number of sexual offences, and was unanimously cleared by a jury of all the charges.
At the height of the incident, a crowd of around 60 to 70 people congregated outside the McPeake family home at Eliza Street Close, which was then pelted with stones, eggs and other missiles. Four of Mr McPeake's grandchildren were staying in the house at the time, and had to be removed for their own safety by police.
A total of five people were charged with offences linked to the incident, and earlier today they all received prison sentences which were suspended for two years.
Two Markets residents - Eileen Murdock (48) from Eliza Street Close and 30-year old Danielle Whyte from Stewart Street - both denied a charge of intimidating Francis McPeake from his home in September 2013.
However, following a trial held at Belfast Crown Court earlier this year, both women were convicted by a jury of the charge. Mother of three Whyte also denied but was convicted by a jury of intimidating Mr McPeake's brother-in-law and neighbour Eugene Pinkie from his home.
Three other Markets residents - Colleen McNally (37), Sarah Bruce (44) and her 50-year old partner Paul Quinn who are all from Stewart Street - pleaded guilty to intimidating Mr McPeake into leaving his home.
In addition, Quinn pleaded guilty to damaging the window of a car belonging to the musician, while McNally also admitted causing damage to the same vehicle.
Telling all five that their actions as part of the "mindless mob" was totally unacceptable, Judge 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 in turn, the Judge said that apart from their actions on September 2013, they were all "otherwise law-abiding and hard-working members of society."
Turning to Sarah Bruce, Judge Kerr branded her "one of the main instigators" who was part of the crowd. Revealing that the mother of four has since tried to minimise her role and has been served with an eviction notice as a result of the incident, Judge Kerr handed her a nine month prison sentence, which was suspended for two years.
Paul Quinn, who is the partner of Sarah Bruce, was also part of the mob and in addition he threw a brick at Mr McPeake's car. He has since described the incident as the biggest mistake of his life and was handed a 15-month prison sentence, which was suspended for two years.
Eileen Murdock - who at the time of the incident was Mr McPeake's next-door neighbour - was found guilty by a jury of intimidation. Present throughout the incident and seen to shout abuse such as "paedophile", Judge Kerr said that despite her conviction, the mother of five still disputes her involvement. She received a nine-month sentence, which was suspended for nine months.
Danielle Whyte was also handed a nine-month sentence, suspended for two years. Described by witnesses during the trial as being part of the crowd shouting abuse, Judge Kerr said that despite not accepting the guilty verdict, she has since displayed some victim awareness.
Colleen McNally - described by Judge Kerr as a "leading participant" - was present throughout the incident, shouted abuse and encouraged 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, Judge Kerr said told them "vigilant justice has no place in our society" and said "such behaviour cannot be tolerated."
After telling them "you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourselves", Judge Kerr then told them "you are all free to go."