Wootton sentence referred to Court of Appeal

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The director of public prosecutions has referred the sentence given to one of Constable Stephen Carroll’s killers to the Court of Appeal.

On Monday, Lord Justice Sir Paul Girvan sentenced John Paul Wootton, 21, to a minimum of 14 years for murder.

Following the decision the judge explained his reasons for the sentence, saying he had to act within existing guidelines.

He said he would support any move to reconsider them because of the need for a greater deterrent in such crimes.

The judge said the Court of Appeal was the only place where this could be done.

Constable Carroll, 48, was shot dead in Craigavon in March 2009.

The judge said the guidelines “laid down special rules for the fixing of the tariff in relation to persons committing a murder when under the age of 18, fixing a lower starting point in such cases as compared to tariffs for adults.

“The accused Wootton (who was 17 at the time of the murder) fell within that provision.”

He added: “As the trial judge in this case I feel bound to express the view that the current guidelines and the case law based on them do require reconsideration to take account of modern conditions”.

The judge said the guidelines needed “to properly take into account the argument that there is a heightened need for deterrence and retribution in the fixing of tariffs, at least in relation to certain categories of murder including, in particular, the terrorist murder of a police officer”.

In a statement, the Public Prosecution Service said: “In view of the clarification by Lord Justice Girvan, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory QC, will refer the sentencing in this case to the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal.

“Careful consideration is being given to the terms of the reference which will be made within the statutory 28 days.”

The other man convicted of Constable Carroll’s murder, 41-year-old Brendan McConville, was given a 25-year minimum sentence.

Constable Stephen Carroll was shot dead in March 2009.

On Tuesday (and as reported in the print version of the ‘MAIL’), the chairman of the justice committee, Paul Givan, wrote to Mr McGrory asking him to review the tariff given to Wootton.

Following the judge’s clarification on Thursday, Mr Givan said the decision by the Director of Public Prosecution “to refer this to the Court of Appeal will now provide the opportunity for justice to be done in this case.

He added: “Whilst this statement should have been made at the time of sentencing, I nevertheless believe this unprecedented development is recognition of the public outcry to the leniency of the sentence.”

Constable Carroll’s widow, Kate, had hit out at the sentence handed to Wootton.

The trial judge detailed how the sentence he handed down was dictated by guidelines.

He said: “Insofar as it is open to a trial judge to express a view questioning the continued validity of the existing guidelines, as the trial judge in this case I feel bound to express the view that the current guidelines and the case law based on them do require reconsideration, to take account of modern conditions and to properly take into account the argument that there is a heightened need for deterrence and retribution in the fixing of tariffs, at least in relation to certain categories of murder including, in particular, the terrorist murder of a police officer as occurred in the present case.”

The policeman, 48, was shot dead by the Continuity IRA two days after two soldiers were murdered in a Real IRA gun attack outside their barracks in Antrim.

Constable Carroll died of a single gunshot wound to the head as he sat in an unmarked police car while colleagues attended a 999 call.

The officer, from Banbridge was the first policeman killed by republican terrorists since the peace process reforms which saw the RUC replaced by the PSNI.

Outside the court, Mrs Carroll and her family questioned the sentence handed to Wootton, noting that in England a possible minimum sentence of 30 years can be handed to those who kill policemen.

Lawyers for McConville, of Aldervale, Tullygally in Craigavon, and Wootton, of Collingdale, Lurgan, County Armagh, had presented mitigating factors to the judge.

Wootton was also convicted of collecting information for the use of terrorism, after trying to obtain the address of another policeman weeks before the murder.

His mother Sharon Wootton, who sat in the dock beside the pair, was handed a 12-month suspended sentence for removing computers linked to her son from their home.

Pc Carroll’s widow Kate said of John Paul Wootton’s sentence: “I am actually disgusted, the full intent was there, he has shown no remorse.”

She added: “It gives the message out that it is fine to kill a policeman here because you get a small rap on the knuckles, whereas in England you get the full term.

“Justice has been done? Not for us it has not. Stephen is still in his grave.”

Lord Justice Girvan returned to court to expand on the reasons for his sentencing and said he was “bound by and obliged” to follow guidelines and directions, including special rules for setting minimum jail terms for those aged under 18.

“The accused Wootton fell within that provision,” he said.

“Those guidelines have been the subject matter of a large number of judicial rulings to which a sentencing judge is bound to pay regard.

“The tariffs in this case were fixed following and applying those guidelines and consequent case law.

“A logical and proper application of the guidelines in the court’s view led inexorably to the tariffs fixed in this case.

“Trial judges are not free to act in accordance with their own unfettered viewpoint but in accordance with the prescribed framework of sentencing law established by the guidelines and the case law.”

The judge said the rules had been altered in England by the creation of a new statutory framework introducing longer tariffs, though the new system does not apply in Northern Ireland.

He added: “It is open to the Director of Public Prosecutions to refer the matter to the Court of Appeal.

“This is the only permissible route whereby the guidelines can be reviewed.”

Lord Justice Girvan said: “As the sentencing judge I would welcome such a reference.”