Sentences Passed at Belfast Assizes

Belfast News-Letter, 25 July 1921

On 25 July 1921, the Belfast Newsletter reported on a recent session of Belfast Assizes, where several cases of rioting and looting were brought to the attention of the court. 

Judges Strictures on Looting

The criminal business of Belfast Assizes was continued on Saturday in the Crown Court of the County Courthouse, Crumlin Road, before the Right Hon. Mr. Justice Moore…

Rioting and Looting

Sentence was passed on a number of men who were charged with riot at Castlereagh Street on the 14th July. The evidence was heard on Friday.

The case of a youth named Walter Rennie was first taken, and in the course of a general observation his Lordship said it was a serious thing in Belfast that the premises of innocent tradesmen should be attacked. On this occasion the pawnshop of Mr. James Gullery, in Castlereagh Street, was attacked by a crowd estimated in the thousands, and thousands of pounds worth of goods were looted. This loss would have to be made good by the rate-payers of the city. People who assailed premises, carried away goods and converted them to their own purposes were guilty of a common, mean theft. “About twenty years ago,” added his Lordship, “in this court, I defended a good many prisoners, and the judges then invariably, in cases of riot, passed sentences of twelve months’ hard labour, and if there was looting along with it they always gave eighteen months’ hard labour, and that put it down. I will take a more merciful course.” In the case of Rennie, he found he had previously been guilty of dishonesty when only 15. His associated were bad, and he was the boy who was caught wearing three pairs of trousers. To save prisoner from himself and his broad associates he would order him to be sent to a Borstal institution for three years.

Divinity Student sentenced

Joseph McGivern, a well-dressed young man, was next called, and Mr. J. H. Campbell, B.L., on his behalf, said he was a divinity student, and was about to enter a missionary college in Waterford.

His Lordship—Surely a divinity student is the last person you would expect to be caught looting.

Mr. Campbell—I am putting it forward that there may have been some mistake.

His Lordship—I will not listen to any suggestion that the jury have made a mistake. The more education you invest this man with the less highly I shall think of him and the more I shall think of him as a criminal, to do a thing like this.

Mr. Campbell—Is it not likely a man of this type would do this thing.

His Lordship—Are you going to suggest he was not there?

Mr. Campbell—I am not, my lord.

Counsel called Pastor Barras, who said McGivern some time ago appealed to him for spiritual guidance, and his character was such that he was to be admitted to the Waterford College in September. McGivern had a disability pension.

His Lordship—I cannot treat this man differently from the others unless the Crown ask me to do so.

Crown counsel intimated they did not desire this course to be followed, and his Lordship said: “His (McGivern’s) case is worse than the others, because he is educated and ought to know better. He refused his name and his address, knowing perfectly well he was doing what was wrong. Three months’ hard labour.