Belfast Telegraph

Release from custody of church theft accused incredible: judge

By Paul Higgins

A judge has said "it's incredible" that a man accused of robbing a pensioner in a church was freed on police bail.

District Judge Rosie Watters was speaking as she issued a warrant for the arrest of 45-year-old Martin McGill when he failed to appear at Lisburn Magistrates Court yesterday.

The court heard that against objections from the investigating officer and a custody sergeant, a forensic medical officer (FMO) deemed McGill as "not fit to be detained".

Giving evidence to the court, a detective constable said McGill suffers from diabetes and epilepsy and that despite having a low blood sugar level, "he refused to eat or take medication", so the forensic medical officer came to the decision he wasn't fit to be held in custody.

Unemployed McGill, with an address at the Edward Street hostel in Portadown, was told to attend court yesterday morning, but defence barrister Conor O'Kane told those present he had not turned up.

"My solicitor rang the hostel this morning and was told that he had already left for the train station", said Mr O'Kane, adding that hostel staff had also given McGill his train fare.

"I find it incredible that he has been released," said Judge Watters. "I have never come across that."

McGill was due to appear on four charges alleging that he robbed £100 from a 74-year-old woman, attempted to steal donation money from St Patrick's Church in Portadown, possessed a weapon, namely a crowbar with intent to commit robbery and going equipped with a crowbar for burglary or theft, all alleged to have been committed last Friday.

At the time police had said that a woman in her 70s reported that she had entered the church and disturbed a man trying to prise open a donation box with a crowbar. In court yesterday the detective said she believed she could connect McGill to the charges, adding that she had objected to the alleged robber being freed.

"Unfortunately, against my wishes and the wishes of the custody sergeant, the FMO considered he would not be fit to be detained if he wasn't going to eat or take medication," she said, confirming to the judge that McGill's refusal "was his choice".

"If the FMO couldn't deal with it, he should have been taken, while in custody, to hospital and then he isn't here today - what a surprise that is," said Judge Watters. She added: "I think that's incredible; I have never, ever, ever come across that before."

While Mr O'Kane told the court he would have been applying for bail, the prosecution revealed that McGill has multiple criminal convictions and "is also in breach of a licence", leading Ms Watters to comment that "he probably wouldn't have got bail".

"There will definitely be a warrant," said the judge.

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