Teens jailed for sectarian assault

TWO teenage girls have been jailed for a sectarian attack on a senior Sinn Fein member.

Rathfriland woman Jenna McDowell and Ballinaskeagh woman Danielle McCutcheon were each handed a two-month sentence at Banbridge Magistrates’ Court last Thursday.

McDowell (19) from Spelga Drive in Rathfriland and 18-year-old Danielle McCutcheon from Bronte Road in Ballinaskeagh were sentenced having already pleaded guilty to common assault. McDowell also pleaded guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm, while McCutcheon pleaded guilty to disorderly behaviour.

The charges related to an attack on Sinn Fein woman Noeleen McPolin, a personal assistant to former Education Minister Caitriona Ruane, and another woman, Roisin Lynch on March 24.

The court heard how both victims were walking in Rathfriland when they were “chased” and “confronted” by the two defendants. One of the attackers had been heard to shout “Noeleen, the Fenian”.

An incident then took place, resulting in Ms McPolin suffering a blow and cut to her head. A male witness had heard words of a “sectarian nature”, the court heard.

When police were called McDowell and McCutcheon were arrested and later charged. They subsequently pleaded guilty.

Both women broke down as they were sentenced. McDowell was also ordered to pay £500 compensation to Ms McPolin.

In mitigation for McDowell her barrister said she had come from a “difficult background” and had been a carer for her father. He added other factors including her young age, lack of previous convictions and the fact there have been no incidents since March.

McCutcheon’s defence lawyer said she had only become involved in the altercation as a peacemaker but had taken “her role as peacemaker further than she should have”.

He maintained that sectariansim did not play a role in her involvement.

Mr Copeland, who said his sentencing had to send out a “strong message”, released both women on £500 bail pending appeal.

“Banbridge and Rathfriland prides itself, not just in this country,but beyond, in its strong community relations and cross-community respect.

“These assaults represent an affront to those communities. A strong message has to be sent out as a deterrant to others.”

Speaking after the sentencing Ms McPolin said, “I would like to thank the people who came to my aid during the assault and the support from the local community during my ordeal.”

No date had been set for appeal at the time of going to print.