The sentence handed down to rapists Gerard McKenna and Paul Sheridan — totalling just 15 years — sparked considerable controversy
Their vile crimes, carried out just days before Christmas in 2019, at a well-known beauty spot in Co Antrim, caused widespread revulsion at the time.
And the sentence handed down to rapists Gerard McKenna and Paul Sheridan — totalling just over 15 years — has also sparked considerable controversy.
Now the Sunday World can reveal that Northern Ireland’s top prosecutor, Stephen Herron, is looking again at the case to see if he can appeal.
“While sentencing is a matter for the judiciary, the Director of Public Prosecutions does have the power to refer particular sentences to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that they may be unduly lenient,’’ a spokesperson for the Public Prosecution Service said.
“We are considering whether there is a legal ground to refer the sentence in this case to the Court of Appeal for consideration.”
Just weeks ago Gerard McKenna (30), from the Whiterock area of west Belfast, was handed a nine-year sentence.
His pal and accomplice Paul Sheridan (25), from Hillfoot Crescent in Ballynahinch, was given six-and-a half years.
The maximum penalty for rape is life.
In this case, the judge explained the difference in sentencing between the depraved pair was down to the fact that McKenna denied the offences and still remains “highly confident” that he will be acquitted on appeal. Sheridan admitted his guilt and “did not subject the victim to any further humiliation”.
Both with a catalogue of previous convictions, the judge said neither showed any great insight into the damaging effects of their offending and were instead caught in a cycle of drink and drug abuse.
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie welcomed the news that prosecutors were looking at the case again, which comes on the back of a letter he wrote describing the sentences as “far too lenient”.
“Sometimes a crime is so vile it takes your breath away in disbelief,” said Beattie.
“Then you read the sentence handed out to those convicted of that crime and you get genuinely angry.
“Such was the feelings I felt when Gerard McKenna and Paul Sheridan were sentenced.”
Last year McKenna was unanimously convicted of the abduction and rape of the 12-year-old girl on the Lagan Towpath in Lisburn and with sexually assaulting a second victim, her friend.
His mate Sheridan later admitted the same sick crimes.
The impact on their victims was made evident during many hearings.
The 12-year-old who was raped said what happened “broke” her and it left her feeling “scared and afraid.”
As well as jail, the judge ordered both to serve an extra three years under supervised licence upon release as he was satisfied the pair were dangerous.
McKenna and Sheridan must also sign the police sex offenders’ register “for an indefinite period.”