Clegg gets four years but walks free

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The Independent Online
PARATROOPER LEE Clegg walked free from court yesterday despite being sentenced to four years for shooting a teenage joyrider in Belfast. The extraordinary nine-year legal saga surrounding Clegg, which has aroused anger on both sides of the Irish Sea, will continue with a planned appeal against a conviction which, if it stood, would leave his Army career in jeopardy.

The soldier was acquitted at a retrial last March of murdering 18-year- old Karen Reilly, shot in 1990 while a passenger in a stolen car. But he was re-convicted at the same trial of attempted unlawful wounding with intent on Martin Peake, 17, the car driver who was also shot dead. Having served four years for the offence he will not return to jail.

Passing sentence yesterday at Belfast Crown Court Mr Justice Kerr said he was acceding to defence pleas for a sentence no longer than four years, despite Clegg telling deliberate untruths during the retrial. Clegg, 30, showed little emotion as sentence was passed.

At his original trial in 1993 Clegg was given life for the murder of Miss Reilly and four years for shooting Mr Peake.

Military chiefs allowed him to continue to serve during his legal fight - he is a physical training instructor at the infantry training centre in Catterick - but a final decision on his future will be made by the Army Board.

Defence counsel William Clegg, QC, had appealed to the judge, asking him not to pass a sentence longer than the four years originally imposed. He said to do so would place the soldier "at a disadvantage as a result of the appeals process".

Mr Justice Kerr said he was satisfied that the account given by Clegg at the retrial had been substantially different to his evidence at the original hearing and that he had told "deliberate untruths".

Lee Clegg's legal adviser, Simon McKay, confirmed that an appeal against conviction had been lodged and they hoped it would be heard in the autumn.

Clegg made no comment after the case but Mr McKay said: "He is very relieved that this stage of the case is over but now looks forward to what he hopes will be the last phase, the appeal which we expect to be heard in the autumn."

Clegg's mother Wynne Johnson and stepfather Jack had been expected to be in court yesterday, as they had at every stage in the legal battle.

But Mr McKay said Mr Johnson had a mild stroke early this morning and was in hospital with his wife at his side.

The couple had flown into Northern Ireland from their home in West Yorkshire late yesterday expressing their apprehension about what sentence the judge might pass.

Outside Belfast Crown Court Mr McKay was asked if Clegg had any message for the Reilly or Peake families. "I don't think there is anything Lee Clegg can say that can assist them to deal with the pain they have had to endure throughout this case. Clearly the criminal justice system has conflicting interests, they at one end of that system and he on the other.

"Where justice is seen to be done for one party, injustice is seen to be done for the other."

He said the paratrooper was concerned about the thoughts and feelings of the families now as he had been throughout the case. "Where he has had a victory they, by necessity, have had a loss. I don't think he would want to offend them by making any comment about how he feels."

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