By Q Radio News
A lorry driver who admitted wrecking a memorial to 18 murdered soldiers has been handed a six month jail term.
Appearing before Newry Magistrates court - was 44 year old Robert James McKeegan - from Beech Drive, Bleary in Craigavon.
A judge told McKeegan - it was an appalling offence of wanton destruction - of a memorial to soldiers - killed by a double IRA bomb attack in 1979.
McKeegan was released on bail pending an appeal.
(44 year old Robert James McKeegan arrives at Newry Magistrates court)
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: “ The fact of the matter is that this was a quite appalling offence of wanton destruction of a memorial to the dead.“
“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.“
Following an application from defence counsel Kevin O’Hare, the judge freed McKeegan on £100 bail pending an appeal of the jail sentence.
McKeegan, from Beech Drive, Bleary, Craigavon has earlier pleaded guilty to causing criminal damage to a memororial belonging to Royal British Legion intending to damage such property or being reckless as to whether such property would be damaged on 4 October last year.
Following that confession, the prosecution withdrew a further charge accusing McKeegan of having an indecent image of a child on 14 November last year.
Opening the case against him, the prosecutor outlined how, at around 7.30am that morning, police received a report of criminal damage to a British Army memorial at Narrow Water, “a place where British soldiers were killed by republicans during a bombing in 1979.”
“I remember,” commented Judge Magill and the PPS lawyer continued that from CCTV, McKeegan could be seen getting out of his lorry while in his mobile phone and “kicking out at crosses and wreaths, damaging the memorial.”
He told the Court police were able to track McKeegan’s lorry and arrest him but during police interviews, “he offered no comment” to their questions.
In what is believed to have been the fourth attack in the memorial that year, the lawyer said thee damage cost around £200.
The memorial marks the 1979 IRA double bomb attack which killed 18 soldiers, the largest single loss of life suffered by the security forces.
Turning to the aspect of perceived hostility, which would be an aggravating factor, the PPS lawyer submitted the judge could infer hostility because it was a British army memorial and “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.”
Mr O’Hare contended however having gotten out of his lorry for a “comfort break,” McKeegan said the memorial “in front of him and kicked out at it and lashed out.”
“His description, and it doesn’t so him any favours, is that it was wanton vandalism rather than the targeting of a specific grouping,” argued the lawyer.
He further submitted that “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 “more than willing” to pay over £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.