A MAN who police caught with white paint on his face and clothing in Ballymena near where sectarian graffiti was daubed on several buildings – including West Presbyterian Church and the courthouse – has been given an eight months jail term.
Ciaran McKeown (25), with an address listed as High Street, Ballymena, admitted five counts of criminal damage with two of the charges being that he painted sectarian graffiti on a wall belonging to West Presbyterian Church and the Tower Centre.
He also pleaded guilty to painting sectarian graffiti on a wall and a garage door and putting paint on a car.
At the time of the graffiti blitz police made reference to Ballymena Courthouse being one of the buildings where slogans were painted, however, McKeown was not charged in relation to that location.
Regarding the same date – April 8 this year – the defendant also admitted stealing four bottles of wine worth £34 from ‘Wineflair’.
Also on April 8 McKeown caused criminal damage to a car by scraping it with a key.
The defendant appeared at Ballymena Magistrates Court, sitting in Antrim town, on Thursday via video link from Maghaberry Prison where he has been on remand since April.
The court is currently sitting in Antrim town because of the pandemic otherwise the case would have been heard in the Ballymena building where graffiti had been daubed on the wall.
The defendant, who had more than 120 previous convictions, admitted a number of other offences on other dates including theft and possession of herbal cannabis.
McKeown also admitted disorderly behaviour on March 12 this year when he was causing a disturbance and refused to leave a bookmakers before being abusive to staff at the Fairhill shopping centre.
Also on March 12 town centre CCTV operators noticed McKeown “walking between traffic and crawling on the ground”.
Regarding the April 8 criminal damage the prosecutor said police received several reports of “sectarian graffiti” being daubed on premises and a car in the Albert Place area of Ballymena.
She said there had been references to ‘CIRA’, the number ’32’ and ‘Free PoWs’ and graffiti had been dotted throughout Albert Place, Sydney Lane, Fountain Place and Lower Mill Street.
A police officer told an earlier bail hearing McKeown had been arrested with “white paint on his clothing and on his face” and the defendant had initially claimed he had been “decorating” his flat.
The officer said when police went to McKeown’s flat nearby they spotted the slogan ‘CIRA’ painted on a wall in the bathroom.
Objecting to bail the policewoman had previously said that due to the sectarian nature of the graffiti it had “caused tension across the political divide”.
At court on Thursday, a defence barrister said the type of graffiti “plastered all about Ballymena” by the defendant was “very concerning”.
However, he said that after speaking with prosecutors it was “accepted” that McKeown was “not someone with any extreme tendencies or any sectarian bent”.
The lawyer said the background to the criminal damage would seem to lie in the theft and consumption of alcohol on the same date.
The barrister said McKeown had “put his hands up” and pleaded guilty but the lawyer accepted the defendant had a “quite uninspiring” record.
He said McKeown suffered from ADHD and was prescribed antidepressants at the age of 15.
Whilst in prison on remand McKeown had been attending a “relaxation group” and receives a prescription for subutex, the court heard.
District Judge Nigel Broderick said the defendant had an “atrocious” record.
Jailing him for eight months the judge also handed down an eight months sentence suspended for three years.
The court heard the defendant had already spent the equivalent of an eleven months sentence on remand.