Court of Appeal: Brothers who targeted the elderly in burglary spree lose appeal against sentence
Brothers who committed several aggravated burglaries around Northern Ireland have lost an appeal against the severity of their sentences.
Upholding the sentences of seven years in custody and seven on licence, Lord Justice Ben Stephens said that the “stiff sentences” were not “manifestly excessive”.
In July 2016, John Patrick Maughan and Owen John Maughan committed a series of aggravated burglaries around Northern Ireland. The men mainly targeted elderly people and priests.
On 25 July 2016, the men committed a string of further offences while they were being pursued by tactical response officers through Belfast. A police helicopter was deployed during the pursuit, and at one stage, John drove at a police officer and caused her to move to the side or risk being crushed against a vehicle behind her.
Multiplicity of offences
In September 2017, both appellants pleaded guilty to a series of offences which they had committed over three days in July 2016:
- Three counts of aggravated burglary and stealing contrary to section 10(1) of the Theft Act (NI) 1969
- Two counts of attempted burglary with intent to steal contrary to Article 3(1) of the Criminal Attempts and Conspiracy (NI) Order 1983 and section 9(1)(a) of the Theft Act (NI) 1969
- Burglary with intent to steal contrary to section 9(1)(a) of the Theft Act (NI) 1969
John Maughan pleaded guilty to further offences:
- Dangerous driving contrary
- Attempted possession of a firearm
- Resisting police
- Possession of a class B drug
- Failing to stop where an accident occurred causing injury contrary to Article 175 of the Road Traffic (NI) Order 1981
Owen Maughan also pleaded guilty to further offences:
- Aggravated burglary and stealing
- False imprisonment contrary to common law
- Allowing himself to be carried contrary to Article 172 of the Road Traffic (NI) Order 1981
Both men had previous convictions for similar aggravated burglary and robbery offences. In Belfast Crown Court in December 2017, His Honour Judge Geoffrey Miller QC imposed concurrent sentences so that the total sentences were seven years in custody and seven years on licence.
Court of Appeal
The grounds of appeal advanced by both appellants included arguments that:
- The starting point of 18 years imprisonment was too high;
- The trial judge failed to have regard to the totality of sentence passed;
- The trial judge failed to allow adequate mitigation in respect of difficult personal circumstances, and failed to reflect the differences in the brother’s personal circumstances;
- The discount for guilty pleas on arraignment was insufficient.
Lord Justice Stephens said the appeal raised “a number of issues including the appropriate reduction to a sentence when an offender pleads guilty at arraignment but does not indicate his intention to plead guilty at the outset”.
The starting point
In arriving at the starting point of 18 years, the trial judge stated that any one of the aggravated burglaries would have justified “a starting point well into double figures”.
In respect of this ground of appeal, the Court of Appeal considered cases such as R v Samuel Joseph Ferguson (unreported, 1989) and R v Cambridge  NICA 4. In Ferguson, the Court stated that “the starting point for sentencing in the case of robbery of householders where violence is used should be 10 years. This will increase depending on the degree of violence used, the age or ages of the occupiers, any previous history for offences of violence and in the appropriate case a sentence of 15 years would not be excessive”.
Similarly, in Cambridge, the Court stated “There is an unbroken line of authority to the effect that in Northern Ireland the starting point in cases of robbery of householders, where violence is used should be 10 years and in appropriate cases a sentence of 15 years is not excessive …”
The appellants submitted that the level of violence used in their case was well short of that evidenced in Ferguson and in Cambridge, and that the appropriate starting point after a trial should be adjusted downwards from 10 years. In this respect, Lord Justice Stephens referred to R v Peter Funnell and Others (1986) 8 CR. App. R. (S) 143 wherein the degree of direct violence was comparatively slight.
Whilst agreeing that the level of violence in this case was “in sharp contrast” to Ferguson and Cambridge, Lord Justice Stephens said that this was “not a case of comparatively slight violence as in [Funnell] where a nine year starting point was used for a single offence”.
Lord Justice Stephens said that the trial judge was wrong to say that any one of the aggravated burglaries committed by the Maughan’s would have justified “a starting point well into double figures”. However, “given the multiplicity of the offences”, the “very substantial criminal records”, and the “numerous serious aggravating features”, Lord Justice Stephens said the severe starting point was not wrong in principle or manifestly excessive.
Discount for guilty pleas & mitigation
The trial judge originally indicated that he would give a discount of approximately 25% and ultimately gave a discount of 22.5%. Stating that the sentencing remarks should be read as a whole, Lord Justice Stephens said the judge was not bound by his first indication.
Lord Justice Stephens also said there was no requirement to change the existing guidance in this jurisdiction as to discount for a plea – there was opportunity to indicate an intention to plead guilty before arraignment, the trial judge was entitled to bear in mind that the men were caught red handed, and in all the circumstances, a discount of 22.5% was appropriate.
Considering mitigation, Lord Justice Stephens was not satisfied that the trial judge failed to adequately reflect the different personal circumstances – given the further offence of aggravated burglary committed by Owen, the “decision to impose the same sentence on the two offenders despite some differences in their personal circumstances” was “entirely understandable”.
Concluding that the “stiff sentences” were not “manifestly excessive”, the Court dismissed both appeals.
© Irish Legal News Ltd 2020