The man was convicted of spitting and urinating on the memorial to Robert Hill Hanna in Kilkeel. Remembrance wreaths from the adjacent memorial to police and service personnel from the district were also ripped and throwing into a river. Both the PSNI and the prosecution considered the actions to constitute a hate crime, but District Judge Eamonn King was “not entirely convinced it was a hate crime because this is a 23-year old and he doesn’t understand what hate was”.
Joanne Bunting said, “The independence of our judiciary is an important principle that we should all cherish and protect. However, whilst independent they should also seek to live in the real world and ensure that justice is seen to be done. In this case both the PSNI and the prosecution considered the actions to constitute a hate crime. Any reasonable person might also ask what other motivation the judge in the case ascribed to this man if his actions were not driven by hatred and prejudice.
It is important that the Lady Chief Justice review the case. It is only a few months since she had to provide advice and guidance to a judge following comments made to a sex offender.
Everyone knows the significance and importance of war memorials. Such comments from a judge send out a dangerous message that it is ok to engage in such an attack or that it is not equivalent to other such incidents. If we are to move forward in Northern Ireland, then it must be based on respect for all communities, but this does not send out a message that all hate crimes are treated appropriately or equally.”
South Down MLA Diane Forsythe added. “The statue to Robert Hill Hanna was only unveiled last summer and it recognises his heroism on the Western Front in 1917. Both this and the adjacent Newry & Mourne District Memorial are important focal points of remembrance for people in the area and an attack on them is particularly distressing, particularly for relatives of those commemorated. The attacks on these were in addition to another on the Reivers House Ulster-Scots centre in the town.
People within the area deserve an explanation of the rationale behind the judge’s comments. There should be no place for hate crimes in our society and when someone has been apprehended and brought to court it is beyond belief that anyone would seek to minimise those actions.”