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Teenager who killed for a mobile phone gets life in jail

THREE teenagers will spend Christmas behind bars after being sentenced for the killing of 17-year-old Alan Higgins in the Central Criminal Court yesterday.

Christopher Dunne, who was just 15 and a half years old when he stabbed Alan Higgins in his attack to steal his mobile phone, last night began a life sentence for murdering Mr Higgins near the UCI cinema complex in Coolock on October 12, 2002.

Michael Maher and Anthony Whelan, who pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Mr Higgins, will serve terms of three and two years respectively for their roles in the killing. Maher was sentenced to 10 years, seven of which were suspended, while Whelan was given eight years, six suspended.

Handing down the mandatory life sentence for murder to Christopher Dunne, Mr Justice Henry Abbott described him as the ringleader of the trio. "Mr Dunne does not seem to have got the message that crime does not pay," Mr Justice Abbott said before also sentencing Dunne to 13 years, with four suspended, for the robbery of Mr Higgins's mobile phone and wallet.

It emerged during the sentencing that Dunne is today due to be sentenced after pleading guilty to possessing ?1,500 worth of cocaine, just days before his murder trial commenced. He was found guilty of murder by a jury at the Central Criminal Court two months ago.

Passing sentence yesterday, Judge Abbott described Dunne's behaviour on the night of the stabbing as "absolute banditry". He attacked a number of innocent young people during the evening on which he stabbed Mr Higgins.

The extended Higgins family, Alan's mother Miriam, his older sister Caitriona and his girlfriend Tanya Franchosa sat next to the family of Christopher Dunne as the sentences were handed down.

As Judge Abbott pronounced the mandatory life sentence for murder, Dunne reached for his mother Christina, who stood and embraced her son.

Judge Abbott said many a youngster was well capable of taking a drink and behaving themselves, unlike Dunne, who had caused "such mayhem, destruction and tragedy" on the fateful night he murdered Mr Higgins.

While the court heard Dunne had spent the day drinking cans of beer, it also heard Mr Higgins had played golf, met his girlfriend and left the UCI complex to get home early to be up for work the next day.

Judge Abbott said you could describe the day Alan Higgins had spent before he was murdered as being the "ideal day for any young person".

"Some golf, some pool playing, taking his girlfriend out, going home by 11 to be in bed to get up for work. If there was a cameo for an ideal young man enjoying himself, you could hardly get a more successful picture than that of Mr Higgins," he said.

Members of the Higgins family including his mother Miriam broke down as they listened to the judge describe their loved one.

Last week Miriam Higgins delivered a powerful victim impact statement to the court describing how a piece of her died when her son died. In moving terms she described how there was not one second of the day that she did not long for her son.

"He is my first thought when I wake and my last thought before sleep. The hardest thing for me is knowing the pain and terror he suffered at the time of his murder," she told the court.

Defence lawyers yesterday had submitted arguments that Dunne, who was 15 at the time of the offence and is 17 now, should be viewed as a child for the purposes of sentencing.

Mr Justice Abbott rejected the argument and late yesterday evening imposed the only sentence open to the court for murder - life imprisonment.

During the trial the jury heard how Mr Higgins, from Donaghmede, Dublin, had just said goodnight to his girlfriend, Ms Franchosa, when he was set upon by Dunne, Maher and Whelan. He managed to stagger to the UCI complex before collapsing and being rushed to hospital. He was pronounced dead in the early hours of the following morning.

Last night, as the three youths were led away from Court Number 10 in handcuffs, to the sounds of sobbing from family members and young girlfriends, a representative of the Higgins family asked that their privacy be respected while the family absorbs the outcome of the case.