Belfast Telegraph

Husband and wife spared prison over shoplifting crimes

A judge who told a
A judge who told a "thieving husband and wife" they should be "utterly ashamed" of themselves for the "despicable and Dickensian way" they used their children in their crimes escaped jail yesterday

By Ashleigh McDonald

A judge who told a "thieving husband and wife" they should be "utterly ashamed" of themselves for the "despicable and Dickensian way" they used their children in their crimes escaped jail yesterday.

Earlier this year, Judge Stephen Fowler QC warned Simon McDonagh (38) and his 36-year-old wife, Bridget, that their "feet won't touch the ground" and they would be jailed if they committed any further crimes in the next six months.

However, as the couple appeared in court again yesterday for their deferred sentence, it emerged that they and their seven children are now living in England and the family are "settled and happy".

Judge Fowler said he had been dealing with the McDonaghs in court for many years, and that he didn't want to interfere with their fresh start.

The couple, who are members of the Travelling Community and formerly of Ashdene Heights in Dungannon, were due to be sentenced earlier this year on charges committed during a shoplifting crime spree across Northern Ireland in December 2017.

During that hearing, it emerged that the couple had brought some of their children while carrying out their crimes, which led Judge Fowler to criticise them for using the youngsters in their thefts "in the most despicable, most Dickensian way".

The judge also said that while he could jail them, he was aware the impact this would have on their children.

He deferred sentencing the couple, but warned them to stay out of trouble.

The couple were back at Dungannon Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, where it emerged that while there are several outstanding minor charges against them, they have since moved to England.

A prosecutor told Judge Fowler that in the deferral period "a couple of matters have come to light", including not paying for a meal at a hotel in Portadown.

Barristers for both defendants said the couple had moved to Darlington to be with Mrs McDonagh's family, and their seven children were attending school and had settled in England.

Judge Fowler said that while he noted there had been further offences, he felt that against a backdrop of their criminal records, it was "a significant drop-off in their offending".

Saying he had "no intention" of interfering with the settled position of the children, Judge Fowler handed the couple a two-year sentence, which he suspended for two years.

Before releasing them, the judge told the couple to stay out of trouble, or face going to jail.

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