Judge calls for government to intervene

Derry's Courthouse on Bishop Street. 3003JM66
Derry's Courthouse on Bishop Street. 3003JM66

A judge has said it is ‘time for the government to step in’ and provide services for people who are ‘coughed up out of prison at the end of a short sentence’.

Disrict Judge Barney McElholm made the comment as 52-year-old convicted sex offender Martin Gregory Coll appeared at the local magistrates court.

Coll, whose address was given on court papers as Donal Casey Court, pleaded guilty to breaching a sexual offences prevention order on July 15.

The SOPO was served on Coll on July 9 after he received a suspended sentence for sexual assault.

As part of the conditions, the 52-year-old was banned from residing at an address which was not approved by police.

He was told that the address at Donal Casey Court was not approved and police advised him to go the Housing Executive and present himself as homeless.

Coll was also told to inform police of his new address within three days.

The court heard that police received reports Coll was living at the address in Donal Casey Court and they attended the property.

The 52-year-old claimed he had the permission of the manager to live there and said he had a right to see his family.

He also claimed he couldn’t remember being served the order, which was given to him in the presence of his solicitor and an appropriate adult.

The court was told the housing association in charge of Donal Casey Court said they did not permit any one other than the registered tenant to stay in their property.

Defence counsel Stephen Chapman said Coll had gone to the Housing Executive in Derry and Belfast, but none of the hostels were able to take him.

He revealed that his instructing solicitor had tried three further hostels this week and they were unable to offer Coll a place.

The barrister said the 52-year-old had been faced with the choice of either living on the street or at an address not approved by police.

Passing sentence, Judge McElholm said this case ‘highlights a huge gap in the provision of services’.

He said if Coll is imprisoned for not living at an approved address and one isn’t identified for him before he is released from prison there will be a revolving door situation.

The judge added ‘no matter what offences he has committed it is unfair to him and unfair to the rest of society’.

He said it was time the government stepped in to provide hostels or half-way houses for people who are ‘coughed up out of prison at the end of a short sentence’.

The judge said if the situation isn’t addressed it will cost the community ‘vast sums of money incarcerating people who really shouldn’t be in prison at all’.

Coll was jailed for two months for breaching the SOPO.