Northern Ireland

Lorry driver who admitted wrecking a Narrow Water memorial has his 12 month sentence reduced to six

The scene of damage caused to the Narrow Water memorial
The scene of damage caused to the Narrow Water memorial

A LORRY driver who admitted wrecking a memorial to murdered soldiers had his 12 month sentence reduced to six months.

Robert McKeegan (44) appeared at Newry County Appeal Court yesterday where Judge Gordon Kerr QC said, while he believed the original sentence was “excessive,” he considered an immediate custodial sentence was "fully justified.”

At the same court in February McKeegan, from Beech Drive, Bleary, Craigavon, pleaded guilty to causing criminal damage to a memorial belonging to Royal British Legion intending to damage such property or being reckless as to whether such property would be damaged on October 4 last year.

Ordering McKeegan to be jailed for six months with a further six months to be spent on supervised licence, District Judge Peter Magill told him: “The fact of the matter is that this was a quite appalling offence of wanton destruction of a memorial to the dead.“

The court heard then and the prosecution reminded the court yesterday that at around 7.30am that morning, police received a report of criminal damage to a British Army memorial at Narrow Water, dedicated “to the memory of 18 British soldiers murdered by Irish republican terrorised during a bombing in 1979.”

Counsel for the Public Prosecution Service outlined 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.”

“As a result of extensive enquiries,” he told the court police were able to track McKeegan’s lorry and arrest him two weeks later but during five police interviews, “he made no comment or offered no explanation to officers,” adding that the value of the damage was around £200.

In sentencing McKeegan at that stage, Judge Magill made it clear that “I’m not finding hostility” as a factor and during his plea in mitigation yesterday defence counsel Kevin O’Hare said it was clear from the pre-sentence probation report that McKeegan “had absolutely no idea as to the background” or significant of the memorial.

Sentencing McKeegan to a six month jail sentence, Judge Kerr said that unlike the lower court, he had the benefit of the probation report and from that and defence submissions, his view was that “there was no particular animus” on McKeegan’s part.