Belfast Telegraph

Suicidal hijacker who intended to drive car into Lagan jailed

By Michael Donnelly

A suicidal hijacker, who intended to drive into Belfast's Lagan river in a stolen car last February, instead ended up being jailed for a total of ten months on Friday.

Belfast Crown Court heard that while Michael Robert Christopher Harte took the car 'on the spur of the moment', he didn't get too far and was dragged from the Citroen C3 motor as he drove off.

Harte, who then attacked police and damaged his cell, later claimed that he was "feeling suicidal" because his medication was being "chopped and changed". 

Prosecution barrister Peter Magill said Harte told police, he wasn't in his "right mind" and, "I can't swim.  I thought I'll steal the car and I'll drive it into the Lagan," while also claiming, "If I really wanted to steal the car I would have went to west Belfast cause I'm from west Belfast".

Mr Magill said that the car owner and her boyfriend were delivering computer equipment in Belfast's Joy Street, and had double parked, leaving the keys in the ignition.  Harte, who just happened to be passing spotted the mistake, jumped into the vehicle and went to drive off.

He added while Harte was quickly over powered, "it happened on the spur of the moment, he saw the opportunity and took it".

Defence barrister JonPaul Shields said while it was "not an excuse", at the time Harte was "suicidal" after being put out of the hostel he was living at the time, and had no access to his medication, "which contributed to his thought processes, or lack thereof".

However, Mr Shields said while it was not preplanned, it would have been a "very frightening" experience for those involved, and that Harte was "the author of his own misfortunes" and was under no illusions that he faced a custodial sentence.

Sentencing him to a total of 20 months, Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland said the significant aggravating factor was Harte's 73 previous convictions and the fact that just the day before he had been given a suspended term for assaulting police.

Judge McFarland said although Harte was quickly overpowered during this "opportunistic, but shocking incident", and despite the Magistrate's warning ringing in his ears, he unfortunately decided to extend the incident, assaulting police again.

Harte, with a hostel address on Belfast's Ormeau Road, will serve ten months in custody followed by a similar period on supervised licensed parole.

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