Man who tried to abduct child of five from Tyrone school has jail sentence upheld
A Co Tyrone man who attempted to abduct a five-year old child from her school, and threatened to set it on fire when challenged by staff has lost his appeal against conviction.
The case was heard in the Justin Patrick McDonald's absence after he claimed to be in hospital, which was untrue.
McDonald (39) of Station Road, Coalisland, was set to challenge the case but a defence lawyer said he was awaiting admission to Craigavon Area Hospital for a chest infection. Enquires revealed this was fabricated.
Judge Brian Sherrard QC decided to proceed with the appeal in McDonald's absence, given the number of previous adjournments and the attendance of victims ready to give evidence.
McDonald had arrived intoxicated at the school on November 18, 2016, demanding the little girl was handed over. Apart from knowing her mother, McDonald had no connection with the child but asserted his intentions to take her, threatening staff after learning Social Services had been notified.
He denied the offences at Dungannon Magistrates Court last year including being drunk and aggressive, claiming only to have raised his voice when "provoked" by the principal.
Convicted, McDonald was handed a three-month jail term, but immediately lodged an appeal.
That was finally heard yesterday at Dungannon County Court, after multiple adjournments. The victims again gave evidence, despite McDonald's absence.
The court heard the Primary 1 pupils had left for home at around 2pm on the school bus. No one was present at the home of the child in question, who was returned to the school. She was placed with a teacher whilst checks were made on who could collect her.
Staff were concerned and contacted Social Services. While enquiries were under way McDonald arrived claiming he was collecting the child.
The principal attempted to defuse the situation, but indicated to a teacher to phone police.
She advised McDonald only a social worker would be taking the child. He replied: "This is going one of two ways. Either you give her to me, or I bust the door in and get her."
He made several attempts to enter the corridor, at one point "putting his shoulder" to a classroom door.
An uncle of the child then arrived, and was soon joined by two car loads of family members who were "very irate and intimidating".
The principal pointed out that "the mother didn't appear until 8.30pm that night".
"We were barricaded in a classroom - the child, a social worker, police and myself. We couldn't leave until a second police crew arrived," she stated.
"This was the single most traumatic experience of my professional career. Not only having to deal with Justin McDonald but also handing a very vulnerable child into the care of police and Social Services."
During his previous evidence, McDonald maintained he was fit to care for the child and accepted being angered by the principal's insistence on alerting Social Services. He said: "There was no need to get them involved... I can't see what the big issue is."
He denied threatening to damage the school, arguing this referred only to one room. But having failed to attend there was no evidence from McDonald, who the court heard had 172 convictions at the time, with more committed in the interim.
Having considered the evidence Judge Sherrard upheld the convictions adding: "Considering the gravitas, the heavy burden on schools and importance of child protection as well as the vulnerability of teachers, the court affirms the prison sentence."
A five-year Restraining Order was also imposed banning McDonald from coming within 100 metres of the school or harassing the staff.
Concluding, Judge Sherrard issued a warrant for McDonald's arrest.