Northern Ireland news

Man given jail sentence for vandalising Narrow Water memorial to murdered soldiers

Robert James McKeegan

A LORRY driver who admitted wrecking a memorial to murdered soldiers has been given a six month jail sentence.

Ordering Robert James McKeegan to spend a further six months in licence at Newry Magistrates Court, District Judge Peter Magill told the 44-year-old it had been "a quite appalling offence of wanton destruction of a memorial to the dead".

McKeegan, from Beech Drive, Bleary, Craigavon has earlier pleaded guilty to causing criminal damage to the Narrow Water memorial near Warrenpoint belonging to Royal British Legion on October 4 last year.

The memorial marks the 1979 IRA double bomb attack which killed 18 soldiers.

The court was told that from CCTV, McKeegan could be seen getting out of his lorry while on his mobile phone and "kicking out at crosses and wreaths, damaging the memorial".

Police were able to track McKeegan's lorry and arrest him but during interviews he offered no comment to their questions.

A prosecuting lawyer submitted the judge could infer hostility because the attack was on a British army memorial.

"Given the history of this jurisdiction and the perceived perception of the British army representing a certain side of society and that this leaves no other reason for the criminal damage," the court heard.

Defence counsel Kevin O'Hare contended, however, that McKeegan got out of his lorry for a "comfort break", saw the memorial in front of him and "kicked out at it and lashed out".

"His description, and it doesn't do him any favours, is that it was wanton vandalism rather than the targeting of a specific grouping," he added.

"Even if the court did not accept that explanation, it's a bridge too far for the court to infer that it was in some way sectarian."

Mr O'Hare said McKeegan was willing to pay £200 which was "testament for the genuine regret that he feels for his actions".

Jailing McKeegan, Judge Magill said that by waiving his right to a probation report some sentencing options were “closed to the court” but he added that "I'm not finding hostility" as a factor.

"Whether the dead were British soldiers or not matters little to this court - anyone who desecrates a memorial to the dead has stepped outside the bounds of any civilised society and the only penalty which is appropriate is a period of imprisonment," he said.

He freed McKeegan on £100 bail pending an appeal of the jail sentence.

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