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Jail sentences that make an ass of the law

YOU get caught in an conspiracy to rob €1m? Expect seven years in jail. You don't pay full tax on garlic? You'll get six. Not a huge difference.

Maybe they'll put gangster Wayne Bradley in the same cell as Dublin vegetable importer Paul Begley. Because, ludicrously, they appear similar in the eyes of the law.

That was my reaction to the sentences handed out to Wayne Bradley and his brother Alan, the aptly named 'Fatpuss'.

The sentences highlighted, once again, the complete lack of consistency when it comes to jailing criminals in this country.

Alan and Wayne Bradley were convicted for their role in the attempted robbery of a cash in transit van at the Tesco supermarket in Celbridge, Co Kildare.

Both brothers are hardened criminals who were members of a notorious gang of criminals from the Finglas and Cabra area. They were suspects in a number of other robberies.


Judge Tony Hunt sentenced Alan Bradley to nine years, suspending two. He sentenced Wayne to seven years, with 18 months suspended.

During the sentencing Judge Hunt said he would have imposed a more significant term of imprisonment if he had a "free hand". He criticised the maximum 10-year sentence available for their crime.

Once remission for good behaviour is taken into account both men could be out within five years.

If these two gangsters are upset with the severity of the sentence, as was reported, they'd do well to keep their mouths shut.

The sentences handed down are woefully inadequate. Indeed, they call into question the sentencing policies we apply to serious crime in our courts.

Particularly when we consider them in light of recent sentences for other offences.

Chief among these was the case of Begley, convicted of evading customs duties on 1,000 tonnes of garlic he was importing from China.

This man pleaded guilty and was paying restitution to the State. Even the judge himself acknowledged that he was "decent man".

He was jailed for six years by a judge who, in fairness, applied the letter of the law to the case. However, many people like myself found this sentence to be harsh and unwarranted.

This was compounded when, soon after, a woman convicted of killing a man was sentenced to six years' imprisonment. This was the case of Claire Nolan, who ran over a man in Blanchardstown in a fit of rage.

Six years for killing someone, seven years for a gang plot to steal €1m and six years for a garlic scam? These sentences make a nonsense of the law.

Time and again I have read judgments from learned judges, in particular Paul Carney, which have been very critical of the sentencing process.

Mr Carney has said that his hands are tied by judgments in the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Such a system forces judges like Paul Carney and Tony Hunt to hand down sentences which they may see as lenient.

In other cases, the letter of the law itself prescribes a low sentence. The terms handed out to the Bradleys fall into this category. We urgently need reforms of sentencing.

If the anomalies are not addressed there is a danger that the law itself will, gradually, be brought into disrepute, if it hasn't been dragged there already.

The priceless, precious and irreplacable reputation of our courts for impartiality and fairness is at stake.