Belfast Telegraph

'Born again' robber and ex-wife injured in vicious brawl while on licence from jail

By Deborah McAleese

A notorious armed robber, who 'found God' while serving a life sentence, was embroiled in a major street brawl involving the woman he married in a ceremony while on day release from jail.

Serial offender and born again Christian Joe Lockhart, who is out on licence after he served eight years of a life sentence for a terrifying robbery on a betting shop, was arrested after police responded to reports of violent clashes outside his marital home in Newtownabbey.

His wife Natasha was discovered lying injured in an upstairs bedroom. It is understood Lockhart also suffered serious injuries during the brawl involving at least five people.

Lockhart was later released pending reports to the Public Prosecution Service. However, the PPS has since decided not to pursue a prosecution due to lack of evidence.

The father-of-two, who has a long record of violence, is now estranged from his wife.

The pair tied the knot at the Clarion Hotel in Carrickfergus in February 2011 when Lockhart was granted day release for the wedding. Among the guests was his violent offender pal Ken Callaghan - a notorious murderer who strangled and then raped his dead or dying victim in east Belfast in 1987.

Lockhart and his wife became involved in a bloody brawl outside their home in Garton Way, Newtownabbey in the early hours of April 9. A row erupted inside the house amongst a number of people and then spilled outside.

Police were called to the scene. Lockhart and his wife both sustained serious injuries. Officers arrested Lockhart, but released him a few hours later.

A PSNI spokesman said: "Police investigated a number of allegations of assault at a property in the Garton Way area of Newtownabbey on April 9. A file was prepared and forwarded to the Public Prosecution Service who directed no prosecution in the case."

Last week the PPS contacted Natasha's family to advise them that nobody was going to be charged in connection with the incident due to insufficient evidence.

A family member told the Belfast Telegraph: "We are furious that nobody is going to be brought to justice for this attack. It is disgusting that this can happen and nobody is held accountable. Natasha was hospitalised with her injuries that included a broken nose."

However, the PPS said: "After careful examination of the evidence presented on a number of individuals reported to PPS by police, it was decided that there was insufficient evidence to bring a prosecution against any party. Whilst this decision may be disappointing, it was only taken after a most careful consideration of the case."

Since his release from jail, Lockhart has come to police attention on a number of occassions. He escaped being returned to jail last year for an assault on a police officer.

Lockhart was initially denied parole from jail amid concern he posed a threat to the public.

Lockhart received an automatic life sentence at Derby Crown Court in May 2003 for holding up staff at a betting shop while wearing a balaclava and holding a gun. He was ordered to serve a minimum six years behind bars and in August 2004 he was transferred from an English jail to serve out his sentence at Maghaberry Prison.

Lockhart had previously been the victim of so-called punishment shootings which had affected his legs, the court was told.

He had been "immersed in violence and alcohol" from an early age and had "an extensive record of criminal convictions" including many for violence.

While in prison he became a born again Christian and completed anger, alcohol and drug awareness courses.

Due to a High Court ruling, we are unable to publish images that would identify Lockhart.

Belfast Telegraph


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