Belfast Telegraph

Laurence Shaw murder: I expected the man who stabbed my brother to death to get longer in jail

Sister of murder victim appeals to Public Prosecution Service over ‘lenient’ sentence handed to killer

Laurence Shaw’s sister Rose outside court after seeing Jackie McDowell sentenced for murdering her brother
Laurence Shaw’s sister Rose outside court after seeing Jackie McDowell sentenced for murdering her brother
Jackie McDowell
Police at the murder scene in Larne
Laurence Shaw’s family outside court
Laurence Shaw with sister Rose
Laurence dances with his mother at her 80th birthday
Claire Williamson

By Claire Williamson

The family of a man who was brutally stabbed to death in his home have written to the Public Prosecution Service in a bid to have his murderer's sentence increased.

Laurence Shaw (56) from Larne was killed in his Hillmount Gardens home on October 8, 2017.

Co Antrim man Jackie Murray McDowell (40) was handed a life sentence earlier this year after he admitted the murder.

The 56-year-old former joiner, known as Lornie, was found with knife wounds to his neck and chest.

Earlier this month McDowell was told he would serve a minimum term of 12 years in jail before he is considered eligible for release.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Shaw's older sister Rose Stone said she didn't think that was long enough.

The Shaw family have been left devastated in the wake of the court case - some of which they were unable to sit through due to the distressing details.

Among the details revealed during the trial about what happened in Mr Shaw's home included an attempt made by McDowell to start a fire in a kitchen cupboard in the aftermath of the murder.

Judge David McFarland said it was an indication that McDowell tried to destroy the scene after he stabbed Mr Shaw to death.

Officers were told the deceased had been socialising in his flat that weekend with several people, one of whom had been McDowell, in a "drinking session".

Mr Shaw had suffered a severe laceration to his neck, had been stabbed in the chest, and had tissue paper stuffed into his mouth.

Rose said the family will never be the same again as they try to come to terms with the loss.

She said: "You are trying to process it, and I don't feel 12 years is enough for the life of my brother.

"That's the thing that's upsetting me, especially with the actions he took towards mutilating my brother, I thought it was quite lenient and I expected a bit more.

"Obviously I'm glad he's behind bars and locked up so he can't do it to anyone else."

The family's grief was compounded when they realised that McDowell had written them a letter.

The court heard that McDowell had written two letters - one to the judge and one to the Shaw family.

Rose said: "I thought, he's written a letter, and we have to forgive him for that."

She added: "The only person that could tell you the truth is my brother, he was the one that was there."

The family say that they think about what happened to their brother every day.

Rose said: "You never forget that.

"Since the day and hour Laurence was found murdered, every member of our family has been thinking about it every single day.

"It's robbed us of our precious memories, the good times.

"We sit and talk about Laurence and the happy days and then the next thing you come down to earth with a big thud because he's not here, he's been taken so cruelly and you do think about it every day."

The family's pain is worse at special events when they are all together.

Rose said: "For a moment you are enjoying yourself and then once the enjoyment is over with, you are sitting there with this vacant emptiness, because Laurence has been robbed of all his family get-togethers."

Rose said she has been getting flashbacks more regularly recently since the court case as a result of the explicit details.

"Sometimes I wonder if he knew what happened; hopefully he didn't feel a thing."

She continued: "You keep going round in circles.

"The whole family, we talk about things like that, what really happened in that house.

"He (McDowell) just did some terrible things, you wouldn't imagine someone would do that to a human being.

"Especially when there doesn't seem to be any motive. Why would someone do that? There was no motive."

The court case was difficult for the family to listen to but they said they had to find the strength.

"At the end of the day this is your brother and it's very important, you have to prepare yourself to listen," she added.

"Even though you are sitting taking it in, you are trying to be as calm as you possibly can. I was just appalled."

Rose said the family were very close and Laurence loved attending family gatherings.

"He was just a happy-go-lucky type person. He liked a wee joke and a laugh.

"He was a kind person, very generous. He was well-liked by everybody.

"Just a normal happy wee chappy."

Rose said the damage caused to their close-knit family will never be repaired, adding: "Laurence is never going to come home, we'll never have a conversation with him, we'll never see him again.

"There are no words I can say as to how you feel. It's just a part of you is missing and that's it."

Rose has contacted the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to raise concerns over the length of sentence for her brother's murderer.

She has also questioned the length of time it takes cases to come to court here.

She said: "I emailed the PPS and addressed it to the director and just gave my reasons why I thought the sentence was so lenient. And I thought it was unusually lenient because of the nature of the crime. And to me that's very unusual."

Judges are bound by sentencing guidelines and must take into account mitigating circumstances, such as early guilty pleas, co-operation with police and remorse, as well as aggravating factors such as intent and excessive violence.

Rose also questioned the differences between sentences here and the rest of the UK.

She asked: "Why is the sentencing so low compared to the mainland?

"People don't take into consideration the length of time it took for Laurence's case to come to court.

"It was horrendous, it was 18 months. That wrenches the whole heart out of you too."

Last year figures obtained by BBC News NI showed the average minimum term handed out by Northern Ireland courts in murder life sentences was almost 10 years lower than in England and Wales in 2017.

Life sentences are given to people convicted of murder, but courts specify a tariff period which is the minimum amount of time that must be served before the prisoner is considered for release.

A spokesperson for the Lord Chief Justice's office at the time said tariffs depended on "specific factual circumstances in each case" and that the number of murder cases in Northern Ireland was "significantly smaller than in England and Wales".

The spokesperson said: "That explains why there is so much variation in average tariffs year on year in this jurisdiction."

Rose said the murder took place in their family home and has destroyed all their good memories of the place.

She added: "The day I walked into his home, we had to go and take out his belongings, it was a different atmosphere.

"To see the kitchen smoke-damaged and soot all over the living room and kitchen, it's heart-wrenching, you have to get the strength somewhere."

But for the family, they say it is going to take time for the healing process.

Rose added: "It's going to be a long, slow process to come to terms with it properly.

"My brother was murdered. My sister Margaret said in the court to him (McDowell): 'Do to yourself what you did to my brother, his life is worth more than 12 years'. That keeps going round in my head and she was spot on there."

A spokeswoman for the PPS said: "The Public Prosecution Service has received a request to consider if there is a basis to refer the sentence handed down in this case to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that it may be unduly lenient.

"PPS will be in further contact with the family in due course."

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