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Pair face 'significant' custodial terms after admitting false imprisonment

By John Cassidy

Published 16/06/2016

Mark McKechnie (20), of Bryansford Cliff, Bangor, Co Down, and Paul John Michael Berne (29), whose address was given as c/o Maghaberry prison, were due to go on trial at Downpatrick Crown Court yesterday
Mark McKechnie (20), of Bryansford Cliff, Bangor, Co Down, and Paul John Michael Berne (29), whose address was given as c/o Maghaberry prison, were due to go on trial at Downpatrick Crown Court yesterday

Two men have been warned they face "significant custodial sentences" after pleading guilty to a series of charges including false imprisonment.

Mark McKechnie (20), of Bryansford Cliff, Bangor, Co Down, and Paul John Michael Berne (29), whose address was given as c/o Maghaberry prison, were due to go on trial at Downpatrick Crown Court yesterday.

A jury of nine women and three men had been sworn in to the hear the case earlier this week but were not formally put in charge of the two defendants.

Defence barristers Declan Quinn, for Berne, and Tom McCreanor, for McKechnie, applied to Judge Piers Grant to have the men re-arraigned on the counts they faced, which occurred on dates between September 25 and September 28, 2015.

Both defendants pleaded guilty to falsely imprisoning a man, assaulting him occasioning actual bodily harm and making a threat to kill the victim.

McKechnie further pleaded guilty to a charge of causing criminal damage to the victim's mobile phone.

Berne also admitted a charge of making a threat to kill the victim's father.

Prosecutor James Johnston asked that the remaining counts, including a charge of kidnapping, "be left on the books and not to be proceeded with in the usual terms".

Barrister Tom McCreanor asked that McKechnie be allowed to "remain on continuing bail" as he had a number of medical appointments to attend, including one scheduled for today.

He added: "While on bail for these offences, his behaviour has been impeccable."

But Judge Grant refused, stating: "These are serious offences and significant custodial sentences will be imposed." He added that the defendants had "waited until they saw the whites in the eyes of the witnesses" before changing their pleas to guilty.

Judge Grant said it had been "unwise" for medical appointments to made during the course of the trial.

"I want to make it absolutely clear I am not granting bail," he added. "The matter of the medical appointments can be facilitated within the custodial context. Make sure the prison authorities are aware of that."

Sentencing was fixed for July 28 at Downpatrick Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, and the judge ordered the preparation of pre-sentence reports.

Before discharging the jury, Judge Grant thanked them for their "patience" and said their swearing in had "helped to concentrate minds in a very substantial way". He added: "You have contributed substantially to the administration of justice."

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