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PPS under fire for not appealing dissidents' 'too lenient' sentences

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Patrick Joseph Blair

Patrick Joseph Blair

Photopress Belfast

Terence Marks

Terence Marks

Photopress Belfast

John Sheehy

John Sheehy

Photopress Belfast

Seamus Morgans

Seamus Morgans

Photopress Belfast

Liam Hannaway

Liam Hannaway

Photopress Belfast

Kevin John Paul Heaney

Kevin John Paul Heaney

Photopress Belfast

Joe Lynch

Joe Lynch

MLA Doug Beattie

MLA Doug Beattie

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Patrick Joseph Blair

The Public Prosecution Service has been criticised after it decided not to challenge the sentences handed down to seven dissident republicans snared in a major MI5 sting.

UUP MLA Doug Beattie had called for a review of the sentences in a prosecution the PSNI described as "one of the most significant terrorism cases in recent times".

The men were jailed last month, but several could walk free in three years.

Mr Beattie claimed the sentences showed the justice system here was "incredibly lenient - far more lenient than anywhere else in the UK".

Judges are bound by sentencing guidelines and must take into account mitigating circumstances, as well as aggravating factors.

Following completion of the case, the PPS said it would assess the legal basis for the sentences to be appealed on the grounds of undue leniency.

But yesterday it confirmed it would not be doing so.

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It said Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron had "carefully considered all of the relevant circumstances of the case, and with the benefit of advice from senior counsel... concluded that there is no basis to refer any of the sentences imposed to the Court of Appeal".

In January the men, who were arrested after a PSNI-MI5 bugging operation on a house in Newry in 2014, pleaded guilty to charges arising from the surveillance operation.

Five of them, one of whom is now dead, admitted charges of belonging or professing to belong to a proscribed organisation, providing weapons and explosives training, and conspiring to possess explosives, firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life. They are:

  • Parick Joseph 'Mooch' Blair (65), of Lissara Heights, Warrenpoint, Co Down.
  • Joseph Matthew Lynch (79), of Beechgrove Avenue, Weston, Co Limerick.
  • Liam Hannaway (50), of White Rise, Dunmurry.
  • John Sheehy (36), of Erskine Street, Newry.
  • And Colin Patrick Winters (49), of Ardcarn Park, Newry. He has since passed away.

They further admitted conspiracy to possess explosives, firearms and ammunition with intent, along with preparing acts of terrorism.

Seamus Morgan (64), of Barcroft Park, Newry; Kevin John Paul Heaney (47), of Blackstaff Mews, Springfield Road, west Belfast; and Terence Marks (60), of Parkhead Crescent, Newry, all pleaded guilty to belonging or professing to belong to a proscribed organisation.

None of the men was sentenced to longer than five years in prison.

Describing the PPS's decision as "extremely disappointing, Mr Beattie added: "I simply cannot accept that these sentences are either a punishment or a deterrent.

"In my view, they are the absolute opposite.

"Clearly the MI5-led operation to thwart the activities of these terrorists was a major one, and very expensive in terms of cost and personnel required."

The PPS said: "These are serious offences, and it was entirely proper that the sentences received careful consideration as to the potential for referral to the Court of Appeal.

"The trial judge handed down a detailed written judgment, which set out the process by which the sentences were reached.

"Having carefully considered all of the relevant circumstances of the case, and with the benefit of advice from senior counsel, the director has concluded that there is no basis to refer any of the sentences imposed to the Court of Appeal."


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