Teenager handed 18-month sentence over Divis Street hijacking
A 19-year-old man who was part of a gang that subjected a driver to an "appalling experience" that lasted over three hours has been handed an 18-month sentence.
Stephen Allen, whose address was given as Hydebank, was one of three men behind a hijacking in the Divis Street area of Belfast.
During the ordeal, the driver of a Volkswagen Golf was forced to drive around the Falls area with three strangers in his car before he was assaulted and threatened with a knife.
Belfast Crown Court heard that as a result of his ordeal last summer, the driver was left "very traumatised".
Crown counsel Philip Henry said that on the evening of July 31 last year, the Golf's driver - a young mechanic who was very proud of his car - had travelled to Belfast to meet up with friends.
However, he drove to the wrong location and ended up in the Falls/Dunville Street area of the city. As he was making his way to the correct location, three young males - one of whom was Allen - approached his car and asked him for a lift.
Mr Henry said this occurred at around 10.30pm, and at this point the driver "thought he would humour them" by taking them where they wanted to go.
The driver was made to go to Divis Mountain Car Park, where one of the gang got out of the car and appeared to retrieve something from bushes before getting back into the Golf.
Telling the court it was the Crown's case that Allen was a back seat passenger throughout, Mr Henry said that during the following few hours, the driver was threatened at knife point and assaulted by the front-seat passenger.
He was also forced to make several stops, including stopping at a house where CDs were collected, and that drugs were also taken in his car.
After a further struggle for his keys with the front-seat passenger, the driver "relinquished control of driving the vehicle and handed over the keys to the male threatening and assaulting him. His car was then driven dangerously, at high speeds and in a very reckless manner."
During the incident, reference was also made to 'Divis Hoods'.
In the early hours of the following morning, the driver's ordeal came to an end. After burning out the clutch of the Golf performing 'doughnuts', Allen and the two other males left the vehicle. The driver was able to flag down police, who described the young man as "very traumatised".
Mr Henry said Allen was later linked to the vehicle via DNA. He was interviewed on two occasions, and twice he gave 'no comment' responses to police questions. He did, however, later admit to a charge of hijacking on the grounds of joint enterprise.
The court heard he has a criminal record comprising of 20 convictions, one of which is for aggravated vehicle taking.
Defence barrister Luke Curran spoke of his client's "difficult upbringing" which featured a lack of discipline, structure and education.
Revealing Allen has mental health issues coupled with alcohol and substance misuse, Mr Curren said Allen was a young man "susceptible to negative peers".
Mr Curran added that despite being of a limited intellectual ability, Allen was working towards several City and Guilds qualifications while in Hydebank - a move his barrister said was evidence of "trying to build a more positive future" and demonstrated a determination "to change his ways".
Regarding the offence itself, Mr Curran said Allen was a secondary party and a back-seat passenger, and not the one who threatened or assaulted the driver.
Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland branded the incident as both alarming and traumatic for the driver involved.
Pointing out that from start to finish the ordeal lasted around three and a half hours, the Judge said it must have been "an appalling experience" for him.
Addressing Allen, he was told by Judge McFarland: "You were not directly involved in the sense that you may not have been involved in the threats and intimidation, but you were in the car.
"You could have made a choice at some stage to leave that car, but you didn't, and you have to take responsibility for what happened in that car, even if you were not a primary party."
The 18-month sentence will be divided between nine months in Hydebank, followed by a further period of nine months on licence.
Belfast Telegraph Digital