Belfast Telegraph

Man with learning difficulties who 'fell through the cracks' jailed for assaulting police

By Alan Erwin

A man with learning difficulties who repeatedly assaulted police and spat in the face of a paramedic trying to help him was jailed for five months today.

Belfast Magistrates' Court heard Brendan Higgins' bouts of disorderly behaviour on the city's streets were fuelled by alcohol and claiming to be suicidal.

A defence lawyer said the 25-year-old had "fallen through a crack in the system" since a tribunal decided he should be released from a mental health hospital.

Higgins, formerly of Cavehill Road, Belfast, pleaded guilty to three counts of disorderly behaviour, four assaults on police, resisting arrest and a common assault.

The offences relate to incidents at Servia Street, Bankmore Square and Royal Avenue over the past two months.

On one occasion he was verbally abusive and bit a constable on the arm as he was being restrained.

In a separate incident he became aggressive, kicked at an officer and spat out as a paramedic tried to deal with him.

Defence solicitor Norman Shannon described Higgins as a man with an extremely low IQ who spent years at Muckamore Abbey Hospital.

"At 18 or 19 a mental health tribunal decided in their wisdom to let him out by a split decision," the lawyer said.

"He has had virtually no support from social services and he has fallen through the cracks in the system."

With Higgins having developed a drink problem, Mr Shannon claimed he was vulnerable to potential attack from others.

He expressed fears that the defendant could be serious beat up or worse.

Higgins' pattern of behaviour involves taking alcohol and phoning 999 for an ambulance, claiming to be suicidal, the court heard.

"Ambulance people arrive, they try to remove his drink or whatever he's got, that starts an altercation, they call the police and it unravels further from there," Mr Shannon explained.

The solicitor also told how he has tried in vain to get Higgins back into hospital care.

"With all the cuts things are getting worse," he added.

"I appreciate he becomes a nuisance, but if he hadn't been released by that tribunal I suspect he could well have been in Muckamore with no record and being looked after."

Expressing sympathy with the plight of Higgins, District Judge Fiona Bagnall said: "He is one of those unfortunate souls who has fallen through the cracks.

"Unfortunately we are where we are and it's the criminal justice system that's left to pick up the pieces - not necessarily appropriate in every circumstance."

She pointed out, however, that Higgins was in breach of a suspended sentence given just days before he began his latest bout of offending.

Handing down a series of concurrent sentences, Judge Bagnall imposed the longest jail term for targeting the ambulance worker.

She confirmed: "For the assault on the paramedic who was there to help him there will be five months custody."

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