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Victims' families demand longer jail time for killers

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Pic Shows: Stephens partner Catherine Greene with a Mass Card outside of court yesterday (Monday) 17-06-2013.

Re: Clement Byrne (49) of Clonattin Village, Gorey, Co. Wexford has received a eight year sentence for the manslaughter of Stephen OÕMeara at Redcross in Co. Wicklow in 2009.Pic: Collins Courts.

Pic Shows: Stephens partner Catherine Greene with a Mass Card outside of court yesterday (Monday) 17-06-2013. Re: Clement Byrne (49) of Clonattin Village, Gorey, Co. Wexford has received a eight year sentence for the manslaughter of Stephen OÕMeara at Redcross in Co. Wicklow in 2009.Pic: Collins Courts.

Pic Shows: Stephens partner Catherine Greene with a Mass Card outside of court yesterday (Monday) 17-06-2013. Re: Clement Byrne (49) of Clonattin Village, Gorey, Co. Wexford has received a eight year sentence for the manslaughter of Stephen OÕMeara at Redcross in Co. Wicklow in 2009.Pic: Collins Courts.

FAMILIES who have lost loved ones to murder and manslaughter have said they are hugely frustrated by the absence of a minimum prison sentence for killers.

The AdVIC group, which represents families bereaved by homicide, was also critical of bail laws that they say allow criminals free to walk the streets and commit more crime.

Launching the results of research on issues that concern families of people who were killed violently, AdVIC has called for huge reforms in the justice system which they say needs to better balance the rights of victims with the rights of killers.

It carried out detailed questioning of families who have been through the criminal justice system after a loved one was killed, and found that 75pc of victims' families believe that the State more often than not pursues charges of manslaughter instead of murder to achieve a conviction.

They also found 63pc of families want to see minimum sentencing introduced for homicide. Also, nine out 10 victims' families said they are dissatisfied with bail laws.

A number of respondents revealed that their loved ones had been victims of homicide while the perpetrator was out on bail for other criminal offences.

"These findings indicate that little has changed in relation to the rights of victims of homicide, and those of their families, since AdVIC's inception in 2005," said Cathriona Nash, the research report author.

"Significantly, it emerged that what constitutes a 'life sentence' is not understood by the victims' families," she added.

Homicide

"This issue is closely linked to member's views that sentences for homicide in Ireland are considered too lenient and result in a lot of anger amongst victims' families," Ms Nash explained.

AdVIC have called for minimum sentences for homicide to be introduced, similar to the system used in the UK, whereby a killer is told the minimum number of years they will serve before they can even apply for parole.

"More than half of victims' families indicated that they did not understand the rationale behind the length of the sentence handed down in their case," Ms Nash said.

The wide ranging survey also revealed how families of homocide victims suffer long-term effects that can destroy their lives as well as the lives of the victims.

"Regardless of the type of homicide experienced by family members, up to 80pc said personal relationships suffered," Cathriona said.

"Almost 20pc of those surveyed said the strain resulted in the break-up of the relationship with their spouse or partner as a result of their bereavement."

The subject of concurrent sentences for multiple killings was also a huge cause for concern among victim's families.

Criminologist and special advisor to AdVIC, John O'Keeffe, said the concept that a person could serve just one 'life' sentence when they killed more than one person causes great distress to families where more than one person was killed.

cfeehan@herald.ie


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