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Crime spree sentences send out a firm message

There will be relief that two brothers responsible for a wave of burglaries targeting parochial houses and other homes have been brought to justice and no longer pose a threat to wider society.

Owen John Maughan (38) and 32-year-old John Patrick Maughan, were each jailed for seven years at Belfast Crown Court on Thursday with a further seven years on licence for what the judge described as ''callous and sometimes brutal behaviour.''

By any standards, theirs was a significant crime spree which left defenceless victims terrified and traumatised.

On one day - July 22, 2016 - they attempted to break into St Colmcille's Church in Holywood, then targeted St Michael's at Finaghy Road North in Belfast where they produced a handgun and ransacked the parochial house after the 71-year-old priest answered the door.

But that was not the end of their night's work. The brothers travelled from Belfast to Dungannon where they broke into the home of a couple in their 70s, threatening the husband and wife at gunpoint before making off with money, jewellery and medals.

Days later the criminals tried to break down the door of the parochial house in Castlewellan before gaining entry to a shop in Newcastle. That same night, armed with a knife, they forced their way into the home of three siblings.

Thankfully, these thugs were apprehended by police following a car chase that ended in Co Antrim.

Owen Maughan was also sentenced for an earlier break-in at the parochial house at St Peter's Cathedral in west Belfast when a priest was held against his will.

This was a shocking litany of vicious criminality which caused a deep sense of alarm at the time.

A particularly disturbing aspect of these offences was the fact that even though the targeted homes were occupied, this proved no deterrent to the pair.

People are entitled to feel safe in their own homes and the sentences handed down in this case reflect the seriousness of these crimes.

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