Northern Ireland news

Man once jailed for 'viciously sectarian' attack avoids return to prison after admitting coughing into police officer's face

Aaron Thomas White

A MAN once jailed for 22 years for attempted murder has narrowly escaped a return to prison after he admitted coughing into a police officer's face.

Ordering Aaron Thomas White (49) to complete 18 months' probation, Judge Richard Greene said "this was an absolutely outrageous set of offences and behaviour, especially in the present climate".

White, who had admitted offences of disorderly behaviour, assaulting and resisting police, had initially been jailed for four months but he appealed that at Antrim County Appeal Court on Monday.

A prosecuting lawyer outlined how police intervened when they saw White in a “verbal altercation” in McDonald’s car park in Ballymena.

With an order to go home, White, from Lettercreeve in Ballymena, began to walk away but hurled abuse at passing motorists on Galgorm Road and when officers arrested him, he grabbed one in an effort to pull him down and kicked another in the leg.

Arrested and cautioned, the lawyer told the court White “coughed directly into the face of the police officer from about six inches".

Lodging a plea in mitigation, defence counsel Stephen Law conceded that White "has a serious record".

In 2007 White was handed a 22-year sentence for the attempted murder of a Catholic man arising from an incident in October 2003.

In that case, described as an unprovoked and “viciously sectarian” attack, White, his brother Neil and another man who was never caught, attacked the victim with a kitchen knife, a saucepan and used a telephone cable as a ligature in the assault which happened in a house at Patrick Place, Ballymena.

The victim described how he played dead and was forced to watch and listen as White ordered a saw to cut up his body for disposal.

He was cut 16 times, beaten with a saucepan, kicked and subjected to an attempted strangulation.

At the time, Mr Justice Gillen said the attack stood out "as one of the most viciously sectarian and unprovoked attacks that the court has had the misfortune to encounter in recent years".

In court on Monday, Mr Law submitted that in sobriety White "is an entirely different individual" and someone who "probation feel that they could help".

Judge Greene told White: "I can entirely understand why, with your record, this behaviour justified wholeheartedly the sentences passed in the lower court" and warned that it was “marginal decision” that he was replacing the jail sentence with the 18 month probation order.

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