Belfast Telegraph

Man who stole to pay off paramilitary debts is jailed for six years

By Ashleigh McDonald

A 29-year-old man who committed a series of thefts and robberies to pay off a drugs debt to paramilitaries has been handed a six-year sentence.

Sean Paul McCann was given three years behind bars, followed by a further three years on licence.

Yesterday judge David McFarland cited substance misuse as the reason for his offending.

As well as carrying out several thefts and robberies, one of which was committed whilst McCann brandished a knife, he was also sentenced for a drugs offence dating back to 2014.

Belfast Crown Court heard that on July 24 of that year, McCann was a serving prisoner in Maghaberry, and was searched after a visit from his brother. During the search, a package containing 242 tablets was located. When asked by prison staff what it was, McCann said Diazepam.

On June 17 last year, a lorry driver and his assistant were making a delivery to a newsagents on North Queen Street when McCann - armed with a knife - entered the rear of the lorry. He demanded the driver hand over cigarettes, and when two boxes were kicked over, he left the scene.

The cigarettes taken amounted to just over £1,000.

When CCTV footage of the robbery was viewed, McCann was identified. Further CCTV footage taken from the building where McCann was living was also viewed, and showed him entering the premises carrying the boxes of stolen cigarettes.

McCann, whose address was given as HMP Maghaberry, was arrested, and after denying robbery, he gave a largely 'no comment' interview.

Over the course of two days later that month, McCann targeted a further four commercial premises.

On June 24, he was involved in snatching money from the till at Curley's Wine Cellar in Newtownabbey. The incident was caught on CCTV and showed a man stealing £20 from the till.

Later that day, McCann and a second man entered the Antrim Road Subway store and asked for change. When the till was opened, one of the men reached into it and grabbed around £160.

Around 10 minutes later, McCann and a second man entered the Co-Op store on the Antrim Road. They tried to distract staff, and when a till was opened, cash was grabbed and stolen. McCann and the other man fled with around £40.

The following day, McCann and another male entered Iceland on the Shankill Road. The pair made two unsuccessful attempts to grab money before exiting the store and leaving the area in a waiting car.

The court heard McCann has 75 previous convictions, and last June's offending was committed while on licence.

Defence barrister Jonpaul Shields said McCann's pleas to all the charges indicated an acceptance of his wrongdoing.

Mr Shields revealed McCann was subjected to several assaults when he was younger, and "the way he dealt with this was by using substances".

This, the barrister said, led to McCann running up drug debts.

He told the court: "He owed money to paramilitaries and this was simply a way of trying to raise money to satisfy those debts."

Mr Shields said that while there was some degree of planning in the offences, there was "no real sophistication".

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