A former soldier who murdered his father’s partner by picking her up in a fireman-type lift, then carried her for nearly a mile before throwing her off a ridge into a river where she drowned, has been ordered to serve a minimum nine years of his life sentence.
Imposing the tariff on 38-year-old Alan Norman Foster for the murder of mother-of-seven Pauline Carmichael in February last year, Mr Justice Treacy was at pains to point out the nine-year term, the equivalent of an 18-year determinant sentence, will not qualify for any remisssion.
The Antrim Crown Court judge, sitting in Belfast, also declared it was also “the minimum term that you (Foster) must serve before you can ever be considered by the Parole Commissioners for release”.
Foster, whose address was given as Maghaberry prison, had shared a flat at Hillside, Antrim with his father and the 62-year-old Mrs Carmichael.
On February 25 last year, the pyjama-clad body of the five foot four inch lightly built grandmother of 16 was discovered by photographer Kevin Scott in the Six Mile Water, near to where it flowed into Lough Neagh.
In his 17-page tariff judgment Mr Justice Treacy revealed that Foster had been annoyed with Mrs Carmichael, who came originally from Ballyclare, because she had called police to her flat, forcing him and two girls to leave.
Two of Mrs Carmichael’s heartbroken daughters revealed that their mother had a fear of water and would have been terrified in the moments leading to her death.
Noreen Brown and Jeanette Hall said they felt justice had not been served.
The sisters also revealed that Ms Carmichael was a loving mother and grandmother –but was also a “lost soul” due to her dependancy on alcohol.
Ms Hall paid tribute to both the police and the Public Prosecution Service, but said she felt the sentence handed to Foster was not enough.
She said: “We feel justice has not been done today. It should be a life for a life. Not only have they taken our mum, they have taken our children’s grandmother.
“The things we have had to listen to about the things she went through has damaged us. We have never hidden the fact she suffered from alcoholism, but even with this fact, she was a good and loving person.”
The sisters also revealed that their mother’s murder was made all the more callous due to the fact she was terrified of water, which they believe added even more trauma to the way she died.
Ms Brown said: “Her biggest fear was of water – anyone who knew her knew that. She would have been terrified on that bridge, knowing the river was below.”
During the tariff hearing, Foster’s sentence was reduced after it was accepted that the 38-year old – a former soldier who served in Bosnia and Iraq – was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
However, both Ms Brown and Ms Hall said they too were suffering from PTSD as a result of what Foster did to their mother.
The grieving siblings also spoke of events in Ms Carmichael’s 16 grandchildren’s lives that she will now miss.
Ms Hall said: “She will miss all the things that grannies would normally do, like birthdays, weddings and proms. She’s not going to experience any of these things now. She was only 62, she could have lived for another 30 years.
“As for Foster, he’s 38 and in 2024 he’ll be able to apply for release. That’s not to say he will get it, but he can still apply.”
Ms Brown also revealed that the family does not believe Foster’s claims of remorse. She said: “We don’t believe it’s genuine. When we’ve come to court before, he’s smirked at us. How is that showing remorse?”
Mr Justice Treacy said it was “clear that on the evening of Monday February 23 2015, the defendant took Pauline Carmichael and carried her over his shoulder the relatively short distance to a nearby bridge.
“Prior to being thrown over the bridge she had been beaten around the face and body. He then dumped her body over the bridge.
“The height of the Belmont Bridge is 40 feet from the water level to the handrail which equates to several car lengths. It would be obvious to anyone that throwing someone over the bridge was likely to cause them serious bodily harm.”
Mr Justice Treacy said Foster entered his guilty plea “on that basis ... he threw a 62-year-old injured and intoxicated woman over a bridge who then ended up in a moving river, 40 feet below, where she drowned and was washed away.
“This wicked act was perpetrated against a defenceless individual whom the defendant was apparently annoyed at for calling the police.”
However, the judge accepted that Foster “has expressed genuine remorse for his crimes ... evidenced by his plea of guilty in court which the prosecution accept was, in the circumstances, made at the earliest opportunity”.
Mr Justice Treacy said that another mitigating factor was the acceptance by all in the ‘basis of plea’ that Foster “intended to cause grievous bodily harm, not to kill”.
The judge said taking into account all of the aggravating and mitigating factors he considered the actual starting point for the tariff sentence to be one of 11 years. However, Foster, he added, was also entitled to credit for his plea, albeit, not maximum credit, “since during interview he refused to provide any assistance to the police”.
In conclusion the judge said that “giving the defendant appropriate credit for his plea of guilty, I fix the minimum term you must serve ... to be one of nine years”.