RUTHLESS predator, Trevor William Hamilton, from Sion Mills, grinned as he made legal history as the first person in Northern Ireland to be handed down a 'whole life'sentence for murder.
The landmark sentence was handed down on Hamilton by Mr Justice Richard McLaughlin, at the Crown Court sitting in Dungannon, who told the convicted killer he would spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder of Mrs Attracta Harron, a mother of five, in December 2003. It took the judge almost-half-an-hour to read his determination, which ran to 11 pages of typed script.
Hamilton, of 3 Concess Road, consistently denied killing the retired librarian on or between December 10, 2003 and April 6, 2004. Mr Justice McLaughlin told the silent courtroom he believed Mrs Harron was "almost certainly dead within a hour or so of her abduction".
Mrs Harron's badly beaten body was discovered on April 5, 2004, in a shallow grave on a riverbank at the back of Hamilton's home. Medical evidence revealed that she had sustained three blows to the head and face, from a blunt object with a cutting edge, which caused injuries so severe they shattered the bone and drove fragments of her skull into her brain.
Evidence also showed Mrs Harron met her death close to the time when she disappeared - on December 11, 2003, as she walked home from Murlog Church in Lifford, having attended a religious service.
Hamilton has been in prison since his conviction on April 12 this year for the murder, and passing sentence, Mr Justice McLaughlin commented that the manner of Mrs Harron's death was "callous and brutal in the extreme". He told Hamilton: "By whatever mechanism the fatal injuries were inflicted there can be do dispute that very significant force was used and it was applied pitilessly with chilling cruelty and without regard for the suffering of a helpless woman unable to escape, fight back or otherwise defend herself." In his review of the facts of the case, Mr Justice McLaughlin found there were no mitigating factors which could lessen the sentence.
"As the medical evidence shows you do not suffer from any mental illness or abnormality of personality. Your experiences of the criminal justice system were extensive and you were, therefore, fully aware of what was right or wrong and had much advice, direction and counselling to assist you. I do not consider it appropriate, therefore, to regard your age as a mitigating factor," he said.
Turning to aggravating factors, the Crown Court Judge concluded that Hamilton had an appalling previous record, and his pattern of offending showed complete failure to respond to help offered, and Hamilton had indulged in devious behaviour to mislead those helping him in order to seek a more favourable outcome for himself. This included concealing Mrs Harron's body, the destruction of evidence in a clumsy but calculating and systematic fashion, the abduction of Mrs Harron while she was on her own which "must have added greatly to her distress and fear", and the fact that Mrs Harron had been attacked when walking alone and, therefore, vulnerable.
He said that while no evidence had been found of sexual assault due to the state of decomposition of Mrs Harron's remains, he was sure the woman's abduction was for a sexual purpose given Hamilton had a proven "enduring predilection to predatory, sexual and violent offending against women".
Concluding that a 'whole life' tariff was appropriate in this case, Mr Justice McLaughlin stressed "a very high tariff figure is justified, indeed demanded in this case".
"The rapidity of your re-offending within months of your first convictions and later release from prison, the gravity of the offences committed in 2000, the sinister similarity in circumstances of those offences and the death of Mrs Harron together with the complete lack of any remorse on your part have, however, driven me to the conclusion that the demand for retribution and the need for deterrence of people who think and act like you that this is quite an exceptional case.
"A rapist who treats a victim as you treaded your victim in 2000 and who threatens to kill her to secure her silence, and who then kills another victim who he had abducted in these circumstances and does so within four months of completing a seven-year term of detention must face a severe sanction in the absence of any mitigation." Describing the horrific nature of the case, Mr Justice McLaughlin went on: "What you did to Mrs Harron, a good and loving woman, was at once nauseating and horrifying, it was the stuff of nightmares and the epitome of the loss of innocence in our community. What that poor woman experienced as you prepared to execute her, whatever weapon you used to accomplish it, was so appalling that it demands retribution of the most severe kind.
"I conclude that only one punishment is appropriate especially as you have been given a second chance in the past but it had no effect on your behaviour," Mr Justice McLaughlin told Hamilton, adding: "I shall therefore order you to be sentenced to life imprisonment and that the release provisions shall not apply to you. This is necessary in opinion to satisfy the demand for retribution and to deter others from committing such appalling acts. You will, in consequence, spend the rest of your life in prison."
He then told the security staff: "Please take him away".
As casually dressed Hamilton, flanked on either side by prison staff, stood to begin his life behind bars he grinned broadly at Mr Justice McLaughlin, before being led past the public gallery where a large contingent of the Harron family sat.
THE husband of murdered Strabane librarian Attracta Harron, has broken his silence to speak of his heartache and how his family now honours the mother of five's memory with a get together every year on the day she vanished.
Speaking from his home in Strabane, Mr Michel Harron also took time to praise the myriad of friends and family who had supported him since Attracta vanished, and during the dark days that followed when he finally realised, after a visit from senior police in March 2004, that all hope was gone and his wife was dead.
"Everyone in the family has struggled to cope with it themselves. But at the early stages for the first few weeks we clung very, very closely together, leading up to Christmas and so on. After that I had major support from all of by nine brothers and three sisters plus Attracta's brothers and sisters," Mr Harron said.
'Beyond family I relied extensively on the various clergy and ministers in Strabane and the people of Strabane, and particularly my wonderful friends in Strabane Convent, especially Sr Elizabeth McMenamin, who sadly did not live to see the conclusion. Those Nuns down there supported me a lot," he said.
Attracta was famous in her own family and among her in-laws for organising large family parties and celebrations, and, asked if the family had planned to or done anything in memory of her, Mr Harron revealed that the family enjoyed one massive family get together last year, when they celebrated the 50th birthday of Michael's triplet brothers and sister.
"But we do have a major family get together on December 11 each year since she was killed," he said.
December 11, 2003, was the day on which Attracta Harron was last seen alive as she walked home from Mass at Murlog Chapel in Lifford.
She had been completing a 30-day Novena prayer sequence to benefit one of the couple's daughters who had applied for a promotion. Attracta was within a week of finishing the Novena when she was abducted and met her death at the hands of Trevor William Hamilton, then a 21-year-old farm labourer, who had been on early release from prison having served just over three years of a seven-year sentence for the brutal rape of a young mother of two in 2000.
Describing the tension he felt as he made the journey to Dungannon for the landmark verdict on Friday last, which has jailed Hamilton for life, Mr Harron commented: "That hour was the longest hour of my life. We got snarled up in traffic but Judge McLaughlin waited for us. We were getting phone calls but told them we were snarled in traffic between Omagh and Ballygawley. We did not get to the court building until three minutes to 10am. You know, people say Mr Justice McLaughlin is a hard judge, but he waited for me".
Anyone who has been following the Hamilton trial will know that the verdict has set wheels in motion in terms of how it will change the law and control relating to violent sex offenders and repeat offenders against women and children.
Commenting on the policy reviews that have since been announced, Mr Harron said: "We come back to what MP David Hanson said again: I fail to understand why he cannot apply the English standards to Northern Ireland and abolish this automatic 50 percent review for offences against women and children. He can do that just by having a Standing Order in Westminster. I don't think there is any need for a review in order to give women in Northern Ireland the same protection as women in Scotland, England and Wales. It is typical Civil Service baurocracy, it is not necessarily the fault of Mr Hanson," he said.
"This process needs to be carried out, but the Probation Service in particular needs to be given the same statutory powers the Probation Board has in England for offenders," he said.
"Nothing can take away from the personal pain you feel at having lost someone who meant so much to you. As my son Micheal said, the thing that was so awful is that we still had a slim hope up to the March 28, when Chief Inspector Gault and Inspector John Gilmore sat with me in the house and told me about the blood in the back of the car. They could not prove it conclusively then, but that was the point when I knew that there was no hope. When hope dies, that is an awful instant to know, when someone is dead beyond doubt," he said.
While Attracta's death has both horrified and repulsed many, it has also been a catalyst for change in that it has established in law the principles by which grievous sex offenders can be managed, and will in future be cited as case law in introducing previous offending history.
"This is the first one, I think, where offences of a sexual nature are able to be brought in. When Robert Howard was tried in Milton Keynes they were able to bring it in under the old law there because it was identical to a previous case they had had, where he had been convicted, but in this case the cases were not absolutely identical so the ruling will enable the law to get at other sexual offenders who might have escaped," said Michael, adding: "It has improved accessibility to persistent sex offenders".
Asked what it was like to have to keep the evidence to himself as the case against Hamilton grew stronger, Michael revealed that he had confided in close family, but it was extremely difficult to walk away when the 'rumour mill' spread inaccurate stories.
"All the family knew, and the thing about it was people were pointing the finger at Hamilton from early on and they talked and talked but what we knew was the evidence was not there at the start.
"People say the first pieces of solid evidence were the bits of the Rosary and the four pages out of the prayer book. The other stuff that came out of the fire it took them a long time to prove that they were hers and a lot of it did not make sense to the police until they spoke to me," he said.
"The bank receipt from Loughrea did not make sense until they spoke to me. The visitor's card did not make sense until the police spoke to me and the plasters did not make sense until they spoke to me. I knew all of this but I could not tell anyone. I was able to tell the immediate family and Attracta's family.
He added: "It was very hard to keep quiet, particularly when you hear people talking rubbish things. There was one story about in Strabane that we had to take Attracta's body without a head...to make sure we were given her whole body the staff in the pathology department, they spent two solid days putting her skull back together so that we could have her whole."
THE landmark ruling by Mr Justice McLaughlin to impose a 'whole life' sentence on Trevor Hamilton, has been followed with a government order for an independent review into the management of all sex offenders in Northern Ireland.
Within minutes of the historic sentence being handed down, it was announced that Mr Kit Chivers, chief inspector of the criminal justice system, would head the review. The announcement came after Criminal Justice Minister, Mr David Hanson, said there were a number of areas where agencies responsible for the management of sex offenders "could do better".
It is understood that the review process will include looking at the internal workings of the PSNI, Probation Board and Prison Service for the management of sex offenders as well as the independent case review, which was carried out into the management of Hamilton.
Commenting on the review, Mr Hanson commented: "In order to support the multi-agency arrangements for managing sex offenders, I will be introducing legislation to deal with the management of other dangerous violent but non-sexual offenders."
Mr Hanson continued: "I will shortly be considering a range of sentencing options, including indeterminate sentences, before determining which measures will provide for the most comprehensive and effective framework for Northern Ireland."
Mr Chivers, meanwhile, said his investigation would provide assurance to the public that any failings within the system have been identified and addressed. "It is vital that lessons should be learned from what happened, not just in a theoretical way, but also in terms of improved practice on the ground."
Attracta killer smirks as judge hands down landmark sentence
Widower breaks silence on his grief over Attracta
Landmark case prompts sex offender review