Northern Ireland

Pair jailed over north Belfast sledgehammer raid

The case was heard at Belfast Crown Court
Image caption The case was heard at Belfast Crown Court

Two Belfast men who were part of an armed gang who broke into a house in the north of the city and trailed a heavily pregnant woman down stairs have been jailed.

The woman's husband was hit on the head with a sledgehammer during the break-in in the Oldpark area in January 2013.

Stephen Douglas, 32, from Springvale Park, was jailed for 11 years, half of which he will serve in custody.

Stewart Mercer, 23, of Glenbryn Park, was given a seven-year sentence.

He will also serve half of his sentence in custody.

The court heard the burglars planned to break into a drug dealer's house, but the pair and a third man broke into the wrong house.

The occupants were watching TV when they heard a masked man outside their home asking if there was a drug dealer in the house.

Woman trailed down stairs

The three-man gang - who had armed themselves with a sledgehammer, axe and claw hammer - then forced their way into the property.

The heavily pregnant woman was followed up the stairs by Mercer.

He pushed her onto the bed and after she begged him not to hurt her, he took a swipe at her before smashing a TV in the bedroom and trailing her back down the stairs.

The male occupant, who had armed himself with a baseball bat, was forced into the living room, where two of the intruders shouted at him, demanding money and drugs.

He was then hit over the head with a sledgehammer, while the TV was smashed using the baseball bat.

As her husband was bleeding from a head wound, the pregnant woman told the gang that a drug dealer lived up the street.

The armed trio left the house, and as they made their way to the couple's car, the wounded man asked them not to take his vehicle. The gang responded by beating him with his own baseball bat.

Car crashed into wall

As a result of the early morning incident, the husband and wife suffered mental trauma.

The court heard the car was stolen and crashed into the wall of a nearby home, before driving off at speed.

The car was subsequently captured on CCTV doing spins a short distance from the burgled home, before being burnt out.

Douglas initially denied involvement but later pleaded guilty to six charges - aggravated burglary with intent to commit grievous bodily harm, common assault, two counts of criminal damage, aggravated vehicle taking and wounding.

The court heard that Douglas has a string of criminal convictions, including offences of possessing a firearm, assault and robbery, and that he carried out the offences last January whilst on licence.

A judge said Douglas was "motivated by owing drug dealers large amounts of money".

Mercer also initially denied involvement, but subsequently pleaded guilty to the same six charges as Douglas.

The judge said the disparity between the sentences of the two men was due to Douglas' "extensive and serious" criminal record.