A criminal who admitted two callous and brutal aggravated burglaries, committed in the space of three days, was handed a 12-year jail sentence yesterday.
Jailing Niall Lynch at Downpatrick Crown Court, Judge Geoffrey Miller QC told the 37-year-old his "cruel and utterly heartless actions" has left the four victims with untold "emotional and psychological damage" and was deserving of "the most condign punishment".
"The crimes for which the defendant falls to be sentenced and the manner in which he conducted himself are despicable and call for the most condign of punishment," he said.
"One can only hope that somewhere in the depths of his soul there is some slight measure of genuine remorse, which will pray upon his conscience in the dark hours spent in the years he will spend in custody," declared the judge.
At an earlier hearing Lynch, with an address at Meadow Row in Castlewellan, pleaded guilty to charges arising from burglary incidents on February 19 and 22, 2018.
The serial burglar, who has almost 140 previous convictions, pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated burglary, arson with intent to endanger life, wounding, aggravated vehicle theft, possessing a weapon, receiving stolen goods, going equipped for burglary and possessing class B Ephylone.
In the first incident, a female cleaner was threatened with violence and tied to a chair in a bedroom while Lynch and another man ransacked the house before setting fire to an adjacent room and leaving the terrified woman "to her fate".
Three days later Lynch and two other men forced their way into a rural family home, kicking and punching the male victim, a man in his 60s, and hitting him on the head with a hammer, threatening to stab his wife and son while ransacking the rooms searching for money.
Speaking outside the court, the man who was so violently assaulted said the 12 year sentence handed to Lynch "is not enough".
"It's not enough for Lynch," the pensioner said. "He is a very dangerous individual. I'm more concerned about who will be the next ones. He is going to kill somebody some day."
In court earlier, Judge Miller labelled Lynch as a dangerous offender who poses a significant risk to members of the public, outlining to the defendant how it will be up to the Parole Commissioners, after he has served at least half his sentence, if he is safe to be released and under what conditions.
Taking the incidents in chronological order, the judge outlined how on February 19 a cleaner was alone in a house on the School Road in Clough when two masked men, armed with a hammer and a crow bar, burst through the front door demanding to know "where is the f****** money?" Along with Lynch was his accomplice, Stephen Magennis (27), from the Downpatrick Road in Ardglass, who was jailed for eight years and four months for his involvement.
During her three hour ordeal, the woman was repeatedly threatened with being tied up, forced to help the men ransack the house looking for money, threatened with a club and, chillingly, Lynch took her driving licence from her handbag, telling the stricken victim now he knew "where she lives".
The judge described how Lynch went "ballistic" when he realised there was little money in the house, using scissors to stab and slash at clothes in a fury.
At the end, Lynch and Magennis tied and blindfolded the cleaner with neck ties but just as they left, the pair set a fire around 15 feet from her, stealing the woman's car as they fled.
By chance two passers-by spotted smoke and were able to raise the alarm but not before £120,000 of damage was caused to the house.
The car the pair stole was found burnt out the following day but a hat recovered from the scene had Lynch's DNA profile on it, as did some of the neck ties used to bind the victim.
Judge Miller said that "rarely in over 10 years on the bench have I read a more moving account of the devastating impact upon a victim of the cruel and utterly heartless actions of defendants".
He told the court she had been subjected to three hours of "torment and torture", aggravated because they "must have known their brutal and callous treatment would result in her life being irrevocably changed".
The second burglary was just a few days later on February 22 at a rural home on the Castlewellan Road in Ballyward when three masked men forced their way in.
Claiming to be from "OnH", the men kicked, punched and struck the male owner with a hammer, threatening to shoot him, cut his wife's ear off and pour boiling water over her as they demanded money.
Eventually, the gang fled with £3,000 and a quantity of George Best five pound notes.
In the early hours of the next day, a bar in Ardglass was broken into and among the items taken was a rare Brandy bottle, optic bottles and an Ipod.
Lynch's accomplices, 32-year-old Alan William Stewart, from Knockburn Gardens in Lisburn, and Ruari Walls (29), of no fixed abode, have been jailed for 10 and nine years respectively.
All three were arrested in Rathfriland hours after the bar was broken into. Crow bars, hammers, balaclavas and latex gloves were found in a stolen car.
Turning to Lynch, Judge Miller said drink and drugs had featured heavily in his life and revealed, even while in custody, he still continues to abuse drugs.
As Lynch was led to the cells in handcuffs, a man shouted out to him, "remember my face - this isn't over" with Lynch telling him, "good luck - you'll be dead by the time I'm out".