Belfast Telegraph

DPP Barra McGrory fails to get sectarian attacker Gareth Edward Marcus sent to jail

A man who took part in a sectarian pipe bomb-style attack will not have his suspended jail term increased - even though it has been ruled unduly lenient.

The Court of Appeal held that Gareth Edward Marcus' subsequent work in helping to steer youths away from making the same mistakes amounted to exceptional circumstances.

Marcus, 23, of Martinville Park, Belfast, received a four-year jail term, suspended for three years, for his part in the attack on a Catholic man's home.

A firework-based device covered in nails was thrown though a broken window of the property in the city's Donegall Road area on July 13, 2010.

It exploded in a hallway as the victim was taking shelter.

Marcus was linked to the incident by DNA testing of a cut to his hand and blood found at broken glass in the house.

He later claimed he had been asked to put a firework in a "taig's house", and only agreed because he was drunk.

According to his account he refused to ignite the device but did break a window for it to be thrown in.

Following a trial at Belfast Crown Court in December 2012 he was found guilty of possessing explosives with intent to endanger life and causing an explosion likely to endanger life.

Earlier this year he failed in a bid to have his convictions overturned.

Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC then referred the case to a panel of judges in the Court of Appeal, challenging the decision to impose a suspended prison sentence.

Setting out reasons for their latest decision today, Lord Justice Coghlin said sectarian offences warranted deterrent sentences.

He acknowledged the "devastating personal and social damage" inflicted by the attack on the home - one of 44 carried out over a 25 year period.

As a result the victim suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Lord Justice Coghlin, sitting with Lord Justices Higgins and Girvan, ruled that the suspension of the jail sentence had been unduly lenient.

However, the court then took into account a range of testimonials submitted on behalf of Marcus.

Belfast councillor Bob Stoker highlighted his work with youths in a mentoring role pointing out the bad decision he had made.

Another reference from Youth Action Northern Ireland described him as a "joy to work with", repeatedly speaking to others about his experiences, regardless of their background.

The Greater Village Regeneration Trust detailed his voluntary role in a midnight street soccer crime prevention programme for teenagers in the area.

Lord Justice Coghlin said: "We consider particularly impressive the confirmation by the various character witnesses that the respondent has used his own criminal behaviour and subsequent conviction as a means to positively discouraging other susceptible youths from similar conduct."

He confirmed: "Accordingly, in the exceptional circumstances of this particular case, despite our firm conclusion that it was unduly lenient, we are prepared to exercise our discretion in favour of letting this sentence stand."

The judge concluded by stressing, however: "In this jurisdiction acts of violence influenced by any form of sectarianism must, in the absence of exceptional circumstances, attract significant deterrent custodial sentences."

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