Morrow urges rethink on ‘mitigating factors’ in court cases

A DUNGANNON peer has called for the use of alcohol and drug abuse to be refuted as a “mitigating factor” in crimes when the cases reach court.

Fermanagh-South Tyrone MLA, Lord Maurice Morrow, said two high-profile cases in recent weeks had seen substance addiction cited as a contributing factor by defence teams.

The DUP assembly man said: “A case which started out as a murder charge was reduced when the PPS accepted a guilty plea to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, due to alcoholism. “Not only did this offender knife his victim to death, he went on to stab another person immediately after, who thankfully survived.

“In another case a man took a shotgun and blasted his former partner in her place of work. He also blamed substance abuse and contended he was the victim in the whole horrific incident.

“Both these men had previous convictions linked to such abuse, yet both went on to kill. In each case both victims suffered brutal and vicious deaths.

“If this is what substance abuse does to the minds of certain people then it has to be asked if an early intervention should be enforced which orders them to observe a complete and total ban on alcohol and/or drugs given it clearly alters their mental state, and in an attempt to prevent future atrocities such as recently witnessed.

“In addition, the number of domestic violence incidents linked to excessive alcohol and drugs usage are becoming more and more prevalent.

“I am heartily weary of consistently hearing the excuse that offences such as public disorder and assaults on police were committed when drunk, and the amazing bonus which this brings in the form of convenient temporary amnesia, because most of these offenders claim to have no memory of events.

“Thousands of pounds of police resources are used providing public order duties whilst drunken groups pour onto the streets at closing time. On many occasions fights break out and police and public are assaulted, not to mention damage caused.

“It’s disgraceful that such excessive self-indulgence should cost the public so much, not to mention the abuse suffered by police and other emergency services. There is also the constant drain on health service budgets treating the consequences of drunken street fights and the effects of those who have mixed drinks and drugs.”

Lord Morrow called for a “serious review” of those who show propensity of repeated violence when under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

He continued: “Furthermore, the same defence should not be put forward as mitigation if used in a previous case, unless the individual in question is prepared to accept they have a serious alcohol or drugs issue.

“In these cases an option could be given to seek treatment, on proviso they refrain from such substance abuse in future, or are held in custody to prevent further offending and protect the public.

“Otherwise, given the cost to the public to monitor and placate these individuals, a full audit should be carried out to ascertain the cost to the public purse caused - no doubt including Legal Aid for court appearances – and full restitution should be made by the offender.

“It’s time there was a major re-think on how to deal with those who believe they have the right to create havoc and blame it on drink and drugs. Whilst the current softly-softly approach remains, society as a whole will continue to suffer.”