Northern Ireland

Narrow Water wreaths vandal Robert McKeegan sentenced

Robert James McKeegan
Image caption Robert James McKeegan admitted damaging the memorial in October last year

A lorry driver has been given a jail sentence for vandalising a memorial to 18 soldiers who were murdered in County Down almost 40 years ago.

County Armagh man Robert James McKeegan, 44, had admitted wrecking the Narrow Water memorial near Warrenpoint on 4 October last year.

The judge at Newry Magistrates' Court said the act was "wanton destruction".

The soldiers were killed in two IRA booby-trap bomb attacks near Narrow Water Castle in August 1979.

McKeegan, from Beech Drive in Bleary, was given a six-month prison sentence and was ordered to spend a further six months on licence after his release.

The judge told him: "Anyone who desecrates a memorial to the dead has stepped outside the bounds of any civilised society and the only penalty which is appropriate is a period of imprisonment."

McKeegan was freed on £100 bail, pending an appeal of the jail sentence.

At a previous hearing, the court heard that CCTV footage showed McKeegan getting out of his lorry while using his mobile phone and "kicking out at crosses and wreaths, damaging the memorial".

The damage is estimated to have cost £200, according to a prosecutor.

Police were able to track McKeegan's lorry and arrest him but he offered no comment during interviews, the court was told.

A defence barrister told the court that McKeegan was "more than willing" to pay over £200, which was "testament for the genuine regret that he feels for his actions".

McKeegan admitted causing criminal damage to a memorial belonging to Royal British Legion, intending to damage such property or being reckless as to whether such property would be damaged.

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