Belfast Telegraph

Pressure grows to review policeman killer's sentence of just 14 years

Call to DPP as politicians seek a minimum tariff for murder

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

The Director of Public Prosecutions is under pressure to review the sentence of a man convicted of the first murder of a PSNI officer.

John Paul Wootton, who was aged 17 at the time of the Continuity IRA gun attack in March 2009, was jailed for just 14 years for murdering Constable Stephen Carroll on Monday.

Fellow murderer, former Sinn Fein councillor Brendan McConville (41), was told he would have to serve 25 years before being considered for parole.

A motion has now been tabled in the Assembly asking Justice Minister David Ford to bring the law in Northern Ireland into line with England — where the penalty for murdering a police officer is a minimum 30-year sentence.

Northern Ireland’s public prosecutor has also been asked to refer Wootton’s sentence to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that it may be unduly lenient.

Under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the starting point for sentencing someone convicted of killing a serving police officer in the line of duty in England or Wales is 30 years in prison before they can be considered for parole.

In 2005 Yusuf Jama, who was convicted of murdering Pc Sharon Beshenivsky, was told he would have to serve 35 years before being considered for parole.

In the Republic, anyone convicted of killing a member of An Garda Siochana could face at least 40 years’ imprisonment.

A spokeswoman for the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said: “Mrs Carroll, through Mr Paul Givan MLA, has asked the Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory QC, to review the sentence to decide whether or not it is appropriate for him to exercise his power under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to refer the sentence to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that it may be unduly lenient.”

Mr Givan, the chairman of Stormont’s justice committee, said he believed that 14 years in jail for murdering a police officer was lenient.

“It is very clear that Kate Carroll believes that justice has been denied and that in no way would act as a deterrent to young people being recruited into paramilitary organisations,” he said.

“And, I support her in that. I, with my colleagues, have also tabled a motion calling for a review of the sentencing of people convicted of killing a police officer in light of the sentences handed to those convicted of killing Constable Stephen Carroll.

“It does seem strange that the life of a police officer in Northern Ireland is not held in the same regard as in England. Given that police officers here are much more actively targeted, there should be a greater deterrent in Northern Ireland than in England.”

Terry Spence, chairman of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland, is among those leading the calls for the minister to take a fresh look at the current sentencing policy.

“It makes no sense that in Northern Ireland the minimum sentence for killing a police officer is 30 years, but in Northern Ireland it is 25 — or in this case 14 years, because of youth,” he said.

“I do understand there are certain tariffs that the judge has to consider — and it is a balancing act — but we believe the policy needs to be urgently reviewed.

“The Department of Justice (DoJ) needs to look at the policy. Police officers in Northern Ireland deserve the full protection of the law. They are under threat of attack 24/7.

“They are forced from their homes in the most dreadful of circumstances and the very least that we can expect is that the full rigour of the law be used to protect them.

“I see no reason why there should be any difference between a 17-year-old killer and a 27-year-old or a 47-year-old.”

Mr Ford declined to comment. But a spokeswoman for the DoJ said there were no plans to review current policy.

“Sentencing in individual cases is a matter for the independent judiciary,” she said.

What they said ...

Kate Carroll

Widow of Constable Stephen Carroll:

“It gives out the message that it is fine to kill a policeman here because you get a small rap on the knuckles, whereas in England you get the full term.

“I think he (Wootton) would have needed a stiffer sentence to deter young people.

“It is the younger people who are coming up the ranks, and it needs to be stamped out from that point of view.”

Ross Hussey

Ulster Unionist Policing Board member:

“We ask an incredible amount of our police officers. They are expected to put themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis. I believe they are entitled to expect that if something does happen to them, then the perpetrator will face the most severe penalty possible. In Great Britain if you murder a police officer the sentence is a minimum of 30 years. Why should officers here enjoy less protection?”

Jimmy Spratt

Former Police Federation chairman:

“I am clearly in the camp that thinks there should be a minimum tariff in line with the rest of the UK. David Ford must look at this. Kate Carroll clearly outlined the hurt the families feel. Officers put their lives on the line and should expect protection.”

Stewart Dickson

Alliance party justice spokesman:

“I would ask the DPP to refer the lengths of these sentences to the Court of Appeal as they are too lenient in my opinion.

“These two men have not shown any remorse in my view and should be given harsher sentences.

“The dignity with which Mrs Carroll has held herself throughout proceedings is in stark contrast to the cowardliness of those who |murdered her husband.”

Lord Maurice Morrow


“David Ford has the power to look at this. I do not value his comments where he said it was a matter for the judges and PPS. The legislation is a matter for the Justice Minister.

“Fourteen years for killing a police officer sends out the wrong message. It highlights that we are still soft on crime. We have had so much murder and mayhem in this country that we are almost immune to it. We need to have stiffer sentences, respect for law and order, and we have got to show that we are on the side of the victim.”

Jim Allister

TUV leader and barrister:

“The primary onus lies with the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider and make any referral to the Court of Appeal, which I think he should be doing.

“Sentencing guidelines tend to flow from the judiciary and Court of Appeal, which could determine whether any fresh guidance on minimum sentencing should be issued.

“There may well be a case for reviewing the difference between Northern Ireland and England, although there are people who keep telling us that the purpose of devolution is so that we can do our own thing.”

Jim Wells

Stormont justice committee member:

“We need to make sure that if someone murders a member of the security forces undertaking their public duty they will go down for a very, very long time.

“Given the callous and heinous nature of the murder of Constable Carroll, it is clear that the message that should be sent out to the dissident republicans is that if you are involved in that sort of activity you will be sent away for the bulk of your life.

“In England it is very clear, you go to prison for 30 years. Policemen and women are out there putting their lives on the line.”

Alan McBride

of Belfast Wave trauma centre:

“Obviously any murder that was carried out during the Troubles was abhorrent and should have carried the maximum sentence, but those that have been carried out since the Good Friday Agreement can be seen not just as an attack on one person, but on the whole peace process.

“We need to send out a strong message, and 14 years does seem a bit lenient. I think we need to ask what are we doing in our society that we have 17-year-olds getting involved with paramilitaries.

“We need to redouble out efforts to ensure that young people are not open to influence from extremists.”

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