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Pair who abducted and raped girl (12) and sexually assaulted her teenage friend sentenced to jail

Two men who abducted and raped a 12-year-old vulnerable girl have today been handed jail sentences totalling 15 and a half years.

erard McKenna (30) was handed a nine-year sentence by Judge Patrick Lynch KC and his co-accused, Paul Sheridan (25), was given a six-and-a-half-year sentence.

The Craigavon Crown Court judge explained that the difference in sentencing was down to the fact that while McKenna denied the offences and still remains “highly confident” that he will be acquitted in appeal, Sheridan, however, admitted his guilt and “did not subject the victim to any further humiliation”.

Following a two-week trial in May last year, McKenna reacted in fury after he was convicted by a jury, while Sheridan entered guilty pleas almost a year ago.

McKenna, originally from the Whiterock area of west Belfast but who has been in Maghaberry Prison since the incident, was unanimously convicted of raping and sexually assaulting the 12-year-old victim; sexual activity with a second victim who was 15 at the time; offering to supply class A cocaine; and two counts of child abduction on the same date.

Sheridan, with an address at Hillfoot Crescent in Ballynahinch, entered guilty pleas to two counts of raping a child under 13; two counts of sexually assaulting a child under 13; and two counts of child abduction.

Almost three years have passed since the two men abducted and raped the-then 12-year-old girl and sexually assaulted her 15-year-old friend on the Lagan towpath.

The jury heard during McKenna’s trial that, despite being told that the youngest girl was only 12 years old, McKenna “held her hand and kissed her” before sexually assaulting her.

Sheridan also kissed the girl and sexually assaulted her.

He was not tried alongside McKenna, as due to perceived threats against him he went on the run and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

During his trial McKenna launched several expletive-laden insults at Crown counsel and topped it off with a foul-mouthed tirade at the jury who convicted him.

As Judge Patrick Lynch KC was thanking the jury for their services, McKenna shouted insults from the dock, describing the jury as “low-life scum”.

He shouted threats and warned of retribution as he was handcuffed by prison officers.

“There’s only one low-life scum here and everybody knows who that is,” Judge Lynch told McKenna.

In court today, during the judge’s 35-minute sentencing remarks for which the defendants appeared at court by video-link from prison, Sheridan sat seemingly impassive, while McKenna appeared agitated, more interested in looking at his watch and fixing the collar of his red polo shirt.

Judge Lynch said one of the issues he had to address was whether the defendants were dangerous offenders and, to that end, he revealed that both had multiple previous convictions and both had been assessed as posing a significant risk of causing serious harm.

He revealed that at the time of the rape, Sheridan, who has 21 previous convictions, was on licence for a serious robbery in which he had tied up and robbed a vulnerable victim, while McKenna has 45 previous convictions, including entries for actual bodily harm, assault, harassment and breaching court orders, most of them committed against women in a domestic setting.

Neither man, said the judge, showed any great insight into the damaging effects of their offending and were instead caught in a cycle of drink and drug abuse.

As regards the effect of the rape and sexual assaults, Judge Lynch said he had read the victim impact statement from May last year in which she outlined how the incident “broke me” and McKenna “stole my innocence and virginity”, leaving her “scared and afraid”.

Quoting from her statement, the judge told the court: “He forced me to view the world as a dangerous place, filled with people who can hurt me like he did. What did I do to deserve this? No one has the right to do to me what he did. I was excited for Christmas, not knowing the nightmare that was to be my life.”

The offences themselves, said the judge, had numerous aggravating factors, including the age and vulnerabilities of the girls, that the 12-year-old was raped by both men who knew her age yet “took advantage of that” and that the rape victim was given alcohol and its “consequent disinheriting effect”.

Judge Lynch concluded he was satisfied that both men are dangerous, so, in imposing their respective jail sentences, he orders that when they are eventually released they will be subject to an extra three years under supervised licence conditions.

While he declined to impose sexual offences prevention orders, he ordered that McKenna and Sheridan will sign the police sex offenders register “for an indefinite period”.

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