Belfast Telegraph

Crime spree duo who targeted priests fail to get jail terms cut

Owen Maughan and John Patrick Maugha threatened a 71-year-old clergyman with a gun.
Owen Maughan and John Patrick Maugha threatened a 71-year-old clergyman with a gun.

Two men jailed for breaking into parochial houses and robbing priests as part of a Northern Ireland-wide crime spree have failed in attempts to get their 14-year sentences reduced.

The Court of Appeal dismissed challenges to the terms imposed on Owen John Maughan, 40, and John Patrick Maughan, 34, for offences which included threatening a 71-year-old clergyman with a gun.

They were finally detained in a Co Antrim field following a pursuit where a policewoman had to take evasive action to avoid being crushed by a vehicle driven at her.

During his arrest John Maughan tried to steal a gun from an officer's holster and later declared: "If I had got it I would have killed you all to get away."

Members of the Travelling community, the pair carried out three burglaries and attempted a further two between July 22-25, 2016.

Owen Maughan, whose address was given as HMP Maghaberry, was also convicted of breaking into the parochial house at St Peter's Cathedral on the Falls Road, west Belfast in July 2015.

During that raid, carried out with another co-accused, a handgun was produced and a 53-year-old priest held against his will.

Personal items were stolen, along with hundreds of pounds taken from a safe.

The priest was threatened with being shot in the foot, before being forced into a windowless bathroom where he was made to get on his knees and locked in overnight.

He was left feeling violated in his own home, with the experience said to have impacted on his ability to carry out his pastoral and professional duties.

John Maughan, from Birchdale Manor in Lurgan, Co Armagh, admitted separate driving offences.

Both men jointly targeted the parochial house at St Michael's Church in Finaghy, on the outskirts of Belfast.

A 71-year old priest answered the door to the pair, who produced a black handgun before proceeding to ransack several rooms and stealing around £80.

At one point threats were made to use the firearm on the elderly cleric, the court heard.

He was left extremely troubled by the experience and lost confidence in dealing with strangers.

Attempted burglaries also occurred at parochial houses in Holywood and Castlewellan, Co Down.

A further raid occurred at the home of a couple in their seventies, adjacent to a parochial hall in Dungannon, Co Tyrone.

Owen Maughan put a gun to the man's head, claimed to be in the IRA and threatened to shoot him unless they were given money, the court heard.

Cash and jewelry was stolen, along with telephones and keys in a bid to impede the alarm being raised.

In December 2017 the two defendants were ordered to serve seven years in prison and a further seven years on licence.

They appealed the sentences handed down, arguing that they were manifestly excessive.

But the court rejected all grounds of challenge, including claims that the starting point in the sentencing process was too high.

Dismissing the appeals, Lord Justice Stephens pointed to the multiplicity of offences committed by both men, their substantial criminal records and the serious aggravating features.

He said: "We consider that whilst the starting point of 18 years after a contest was undoubtedly severe in the context of these cases it could not be described as wrong in principle or manifestly excessive."

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