A man who assaulted his partner so violently she feared she was going to die could be facing years behind bars.
Mark Dunlop, of Ballynick Road, Loughgall, was found guilty of a litany of violent offences against his then partner; including grievous bodily harm with intent, two counts of common assault, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and three counts of threats to kill.
The 36-year-old, who was also found guilty of criminal damage, continues to protest his innocence despite the unanimous verdict of a jury earlier this year.
During a plea and sentence hearing at Newry Crown Court on Tuesday, Dunlop’s defence solicitor admitted it was “hard to find any mitigating factors” for his actions to which His Honour Judge Gordon Kerr retorted: “To put it bluntly, you have a thankless task”.
Judge Kerr said that given the precedents placed before him, “the sentencing range starting point would be seven to 15 years”.
“I’m accepting that this isn’t the height of GBH, there’s much more serious cases than this one in terms of medical consequences. But even if one was to start on the basis of the lower end of that scale, at a figure of say eight years as being an appropriate starting point.”
Commenting on the element of domestic violence, Judge Kerr added: “There are a number of factors, which on the face of it would apply in this case, including the fact that it’s a course of conduct that there was a threat of a nature which was designed to prevent treatment at the time.
“There were threats of the nature which were designed not to specify him as the attacker. All of those are factors which would elevate that eight years to a higher position.
“Now the Court of Appeal have made it clear …that you must consider both the mitigation as well as aggravation before reaching the figure, which will then be reduced for any plea and of course; there’s no plea in this case, so there will be no reduction in sentence on that basis. But I have to say that on the facts before me, I’m struggling to find any mitigatory feature, in this case at all.”
Concluding his remarks, Judge Kerr, said he wanted to consider the submissions before passing his sentence on Tuesday, September 13.
In July, the victim went public with her story in a bid to encourage other women not to be afraid to come forward and report the perpetrators.
Stacey McClatchey, from Laurelvale, was in court to see a jury return their unanimous verdict.
Speaking to Armagh I following the verdict, the mother-of-six said the defendant had been living with her for five or six months when the first incident took place.
She said Dunlop, who had been drinking, punched her in the face, dragged her by the hair and banged her head off doors and the kitchen floor.
“That was at 9.30pm at night and by the time I came round, it was daylight outside. My head was split open, there was blood coming out of my ears, my eye had been split open and he was still sitting drinking,” she said.
“My jaw was sore for days afterwards and I told him I needed to go to hospital. He said I could go, but once the bruising died down.
“I wasn’t able to eat food. I was living on bits of soup. About 10 days later, he let me go to the hospital and it was confirmed I had a break to the jaw.”
Ms McClatchey said that her ex-partner had apologised afterwards and promised it would never happen again.
“I didn’t think he was going to do it again but I still had the fear. It was never the same trust with him after that,” she added.
Embarrassed by what had happened, she told friends and family they had been “carrying on” and she had hit her face off the breakfast bar.
However, the physical assaults did continue – including another particularly vicious one in which she sustained a broken cheekbone, and during which the defendant threatened to kill members of her family.
Ms McClatchey finally called the police in April 2020, when Dunlop again became angry and threatening.
This time, the turning point was that her children were at home.
“I didn’t want my children to witness anything, ” she said. “The other times they were with their dad and I had told them that mummy fell.
“And after the threats he had made to my dad, I knew things weren’t going to change and I needed to get rid of him.
“I went into the bedroom where he couldn’t hear me. I told police he was drunk and abusive and I was afraid he was going to end up hurting me again.
“I asked them if they could get somebody out quickly and if they could say it was a neighbour who had phoned about a noise disturbance.”
When police arrived, they removed Dunlop from the house and Ms McClatchey told them she also wanted to report the previous incidents.
Speaking in July, she said: “I am still trying to take it all in. I didn’t even know the police had got so much evidence against him. They were fantastic, the work they put into the case.
“I had been reading previous stories about people being let off in court and I just had no hope so when I finally got that ‘guilty’ from all 12 jury members, I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
Ms McClatchey is also full of praise for Women’s Aid which supported her throughout the two-year trial process.
She also has no regrets about taking the case to court, even though reliving the events was traumatic.
“I thought at least if one girl knows about this and thinks twice about entering into a relationship, it will be worth it,” she said.
“My advice is get a police background check done. And now that I have been through Women’s Aid, I know there is a pattern to the abuse.
“They (the offenders) apologise and things might be perfect for a while but they will do it again.”
For more information on Women’s Aid locally, visit https://womensaidarmaghdown.org/