Murderer out on licence at time of hold-up incident

Judge's court wig and hammer or gavel
Judge's court wig and hammer or gavel

A convicted pick-axe-handle murderer has pleaded guilty to charges of attempted robbery of delivery drivers outside Domino’s pizza takeaway just yards from Ballymena Police Station.

Keith Mawhinney (37) from Drumtara, Ballymena, appeared at Antrim Crown Court on Wednesday in connection with an attempted hold-up at Smithfield Place on the night of Friday January 22 this year.

He admitted charges of attempting to rob delivery drivers and a third charge of having a firearm or imitation firearm with intent to commit robbery.

Defence counsel Charles McCreanor QC told the court Mawhinney is currently on “life licence” which was why he was in custody on the takeaway charges.

Mr McCreanor said the life licence issue will have to be looked at once he serves whatever sentence he gets in relation to the current Domino’s offences.

He said the “risk” Mawhinney poses to the public will need to be addressed.

Mr McCreanor meanwhile, said Mawhinney already had compassionate bail granted so he can visit his seriously ill sister and Judge Gordon Kerr QC renewed that. The court heard the prison authorities at Maghaberry Jail have been informed.

Sentencing will take place in mid-November.

No futher details were given at the Crown Court on Wednesday regarding the Domino’s offences but at a previous hearing at Coleraine Magistrates Court earlier this year a police officer said at 11pm on January 22 two delivery drivers and a passenger in one of their vehicles were approached by a man in a balaclava who pointed a gun at them and demanded money but after no money was handed over he ran off.

Later, Mawhinney was stopped by police at Larne Street in Ballymena wearing a beanie hat which turned out to be a balaclava and he had a “gun” in the small of his back, the officer said.

The officer said Mawhinney was out on licence after being jailed for life along with his father for a murder in England. He said Keith Mawhinney was released from jail in 2011.

The officer said a witness had seen Mawhinney loitering around the area of Domino’s on January 22 and believed that was the man who later carried out the attempted robbery.

The policeman said officers believed the weapon used was an imitation firearm but that it had not been officially examined at that stage.

At the January hearing, defence barrister Aaron Thompson made reference to the murder conviction and only said it involved an incident Mawhinney and his dad were involved in at a house.

The brutal murder stunned Hartlepool.

Hartlepool man Anthony Clark was murdered by father and son John and Keith Mawhinney at his home in the English town in 1998.

Mawhinney was jailed in 1999 along with his dad for beating Mr Clark (33) to death with a pickaxe handle.

Mr Clark was killed in his Milton Road home after the Mawhinneys believed he had stolen a ring belonging to the dead sister of John Mawhinney s wife.

At the time of the murder, John “Jake” Mawhinney was still on licence from a 13-year prison term for loyalist paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland.

In 2013 Mawhinney and his father failed to overturn their murder convictions.

The Appeal Court in London ruled circumstantial evidence alone had been enough for a Teesside Crown Court jury to convict them.

Lord Justice Auld accepted prosecution claims that “in the real world” the Mawhinneys were the “only candidates” for the killing.

A third man - said to have lured Mr Clark’s wife Shirley out of the flat so that the “punishment beating” could commence - was convicted of conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm and jailed for four years.

Prosecutors claimed the Mawhinneys caused fatal injuries after beating their victim with pick handles. The attack was said to have been retribution for a burglary of Mawhinney senior’s flat.

Mr Clark never regained consciousness and died the following day.

Lawyers for the father and son argued their murder convictions were “unsafe” as they were based on the “deeply flawed” testimony of police informant Zeiff Payne who claimed during the Mawhinneys’ trial that both men admitted to him their roles in the killing.

Mr Payne had told the jury the Mawhinneys confessed to him after the killing that “Mr Clark was like a jellyfish when they left him” and that they had “broken every bone in his body”.

Edward Fitzgerald QC - for Mawhinney junior - described Mr Payne’s evidence as “inherently unreliable”. But Lord Justice Auld, sitting with Mr Justice Henriques and Mr Justice Beatson, rejected claims that the trial judge should have directed the jury to ignore Mr Payne’s testimony.

And he ruled that, even without Mr Payne’s testimony, the jury would have been entitled to convict the Mawhinneys of murder on the basis of the circumstantial evidence alone.

Lord Justice Auld said the criminal justice system prizes juries “for their grasp of reality and application of good common sense” - and that was exactly what the jurors had done in this case.

He concluded: “We are satisfied of the safety of both verdicts and we dismiss these appeals”.