A 43-year old man who barricaded himself in his attic then threatened to shoot police during an alcohol-fuelled stand-off was spared jail today.
Dealing with what he described as a "lockdown incident", Judge Neil Rafferty QC made Brendan McCabe the subject of a two-year Probation Order.
Belfast Crown Court, sitting in Newry, heard McCabe struggled to cope with not working and being furloughed due to the Covid pandemic and that he turned to alcohol.
On July 25 last year, he had a row with his partner which culminated in him going to the attic of their Mica Drive home in west Belfast with his BB gun.
His partner called the police, and when officers arrived, McCabe - who had been drinking whiskey and Jack Daniels - said he had a gun and threatened to shoot them in the face if they tried to approach the attic.
A stand-off lasting almost three hours ensued, during which McCabe's behaviour was described as "aggressive" and "erratic". Whilst issuing the threats to police, he also appeared to be knowledgeable about firearms, which Judge Rafferty would have heightened fear.
During the stand-off, which involved officers from the Armed Response Unit, a police negotiator was deployed to try and calm McCabe down. the incident ended when McCabe came down from the attic and surrendered peacefully.
When his home was searched, a BB gun - which was never actually brandished at officers or used by McCabe during the stand-off - was found, as was a small amount of cannabis.
The father-of-one was arrested and was immediately apologetic about his behaviour. He co-operated with police and pleaded guilty to four offences.
With an address at Church Meadows in Dromore, McCabe admitted possessing an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, possessing a Class B drug and two counts of threats to kill police.
Describing these threats as the most serious offences, Crown barrister David Russell said they were issued at emergency workers employed on the front line during a medical pandemic.
The prosecutor said McCabe gave the impression he was armed with a longarm weapon with a scope, which "played into the force of the threats issued to police" and "made them more real."
Defence barrister Sean O'Hare described his client as a "victim of the pandemic", and one who struggled to cope with not being able to work.
Mr O'Hare added McCabe was "ashamed and embarrassed at the way he conducted himself a his house".
Judge Rafferty said he accepted McCabe appeared to have "spiralled" prior to incident and that as an "industrious and hard-working man", he struggled with staying at home during the pandemic.
However, Judge Rafferty noted that the threats issued by McCabe were directed at members of the Emergency Services, who he said were "entitled to the protection of the law in the duties they perform for our society."
The Judge praised the police for the professionalism displayed during the stand-off with McCabe and for "ultimately resolving the situation peacefully."
He added: "One can very easily conjure up a scenario where in different jurisdictions this may have ended differently, but for the professionalism of the police on the ground that day."
Turning to McCabe, Judge Rafferty said it appeared that as a hard-working man, his mental health suffered under the restrictions of lockdown and that he turned to alcohol which had a negative impact on him.
Noting McCabe's clear criminal record, Judge Rafferty said he considered imposing an eight-month sentence, but opted for a "more pragmatic approach" of a Probation Order which would allow McCabe to address his issues including alcohol.