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Teenagers handed 18-month sentence for 'frightening' Belfast hijacking

Judge commends women for giving evidence in court

By Ashleigh McDonald

Two young men from Belfast who subjected two women to a "frightening" hijacking in the centre of Belfast have been sentenced to nine months at a young offenders centre

Richard Jones and Ryan McCrea - who are both 19 - were each handed an 18-month sentence for their involvement in the hijacking, which took place in a city centre car park in November 2014.

Passing sentence, Her Honour Judge McCaffrey told the pair that they would each spend nine months in detention, followed by a period of nine months on supervised licence when they are released.

Both men denied involvement and were tried by a jury earlier this year. Despite their protests of innocence, both McCrea and Jones were found guilty by a jury of taking a red Volkswagen Polo by force from a car park at Dunbar Link.

During the trial, the jury heard that the owner of the Polo drove from Ballymena to Belfast on the afternoon of November 8, 2014 where she met her friend. The two woman had lunch then went Christmas shopping, before returning to the car park at around 6.45pm.

After she put her bags into the boot, the car owner got into her vehicle. At this stage, a group of around five young men approached the car. One of the males ordered the women out of the car, while the motorist was grabbed by the arm and dragged from her car.

The males got into the Polo which was driven from the scene, while the women ran to a nearby bar for help.

The jury also heard that after being involved in a collision with another car in the Falls area of the city, the stolen Polo was found abandoned a short distance from the earlier crash.

While McCrea was linked to the car forensically via both DNA and fingerprints, Jones confessed his involvement to police a year after the incident.

Despite this, both accused denied involvement and both gave evidence at the trial, which was held at Belfast Crown Court last month.

Jones branded his confession as "lies" and said his "head was melted" at the time, whilst McCrea told the jury that on the night in question, he was standing outside a shop in west Belfast when a male he knew pulled up in a red car.

He claimed he got in, lifted a bag from the passenger seat which he handed to the driver, listened to a bit of music, had a smoke, then got out of the car.

Following several hours of deliberations, the jury returned their verdicts and found both men guilty of the offences.

McCrea, from Prospect Park, was found unanimously guilty of hijacking the Polo and of a charge of aggravated vehicle taking causing damage.

Jones, from St Leonards Crescent, was found guilty by a majority of 11 to one of the same two charges, and also of stealing £45 from one of the female victims.

Barristers for both young men said that while they maintained their innocence during the trial, they have since admitted their involvement.

Barry Gibson, representing McCrea, said his client had a history of poor mental health, adding he was "vulnerable and troubled" as a teenager and now has a number of development issues. Mr Gibson said McCrea "now accepts his involvement and apologises for his involvement."

Jones's barrister Luke Curran spoke of his "very difficult background" which resulted in bullying and social isolation.

Mr Curran told the court: "He accepts his responsibility, he accepts fully the offences for which he was found guilty, and he apologises both to the victims and to the court for not admitting that."

Before the pair were taken into custody, Judge McCaffrey paid tribute to both women for coming to court and giving evidence, and said: "This was undoubtedly a frightening experience for them."

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