News Letter
23 May 2012

ONE of the men convicted of murdering Constable Stephen Carroll is to have his sentence reviewed after claims it was unduly lenient.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Barra McGrory, is to examine the 14-year tariff handed down to John Paul Wootton on Monday for the murder of the officer in Craigavon three years ago — and decide whether it would be appropriate to refer the sentence to the Court of Appeal.

Pressure has been mounting on the Justice Minister to introduce a mandatory minimum sentence for similar murders since the officer’s widow spoke of her “disgust” at the judge’s decision.

Several politicians and media commentators have joined Kate Carroll in demanding an urgent review of the sentencing policy in Northern Ireland.

Yesterday, a DPP spokesman 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.”

A spokesperson for the Public Prosecution Service later confirmed to the News Letter that they will be reviewing Wootton’s sentence.

It also emerged yesterday that a motion will come before the Assembly on June 11 which calls for “a review of sentencing for the murder of PSNI officers”.

At Belfast Crown Court on Monday, the relatively young age of John Paul Wootton from Lurgan — one of the two men convicted of shooting dead the officer in 2009 — was considered by the judge to be a major mitigating factor.

Although he turned 21 last week, Wootton was 17 when Constable Carroll was murdered by the Continuity IRA in Craigavon.

Justice Minister David Ford has rejected calls for minimum sentences, describing them as a “blunt instruments” that “do not recognise the full range of circumstances which can come before a court.”

Speaking yesterday, a spokesman for the Justice Department said it was right that judges had discretion when it came to sentencing, and added: “The minister intends to make an announcement in the next month on the way forward on sentencing guidelines mechanisms.”

Wootton and his 41-year-old co-accused Brendan McConville from Craigavon were convicted of the killing earlier this year but had been brought back to court for sentencing by Lord Justice Girvan.

The judge deemed there were no mitigating circumstances in McConville’s case and handed down a minimum 25-year term before he can be considered for release.

Speaking immediately after the court hearing, the widow of the slain officer described Wootton’s 14-year tariff as “disgusting” and said her own family were now serving a life sentence.

Justice Committee chairman Paul Givan MLA and his DUP colleague Jonathan Craig both called for a review of Wootton’s sentence.

Mr Givan said the 14-year term “failed to recognise the gravity of the crime” and added: “It will fail to act as a deterrent to young people who are being recruited by terrorist organisations. Indeed, it only serves to encourage these organisations to use more young people for terrorist activities.”

Mr Craig, a member of the Policing Board, said: I would urge the Justice Minister to bring our sentencing regime into line with that which exists in other parts of the United Kingdom. Terrorists should know that if they kill a police officer they will go to jail for 30 years before being considered for parole.”

Ulster Unionist member of the Policing Board Ross Hussey also voiced his concern, saying: “Kate Carroll’s disgust at the 14 year minimum sentence for one of the murderers will be shared by all right-thinking people in Northern Ireland.”