Three Lithuanian men have had five-year sentences for robbery suspended on condition they go home and don’t return to Ireland for 10 years.
At Mullingar Circuit Court this week (February 17 ), they admitted stealing 51 diamond rings worth €93,871 from Blacoe’s jewellers, Mardyke Street, Athlone on March 6 last.
Judge Anthony Kennedy accepted that “a controlling mastermind” had a terrifying control over the men and their families and they had committed the robbery under duress.
However, this was no defence, he said, indicating that three women in the shop had been terrified and traumatized long-term by their experience.
Customer Valerie Byrne initially thought Egidijus Peculius, from Joncua in Lithuania was carrying a gun and that she was going to be shot, and had been “in agony” when pepper-sprayed in the face.
Staff member Teresa Carey saw the attack and tried to run upstairs but was stopped halfway and pepper-sprayed, again by Peculius while Gytis Zienius, Kaunas, Lithuania stole the rings.
Shop owner Angela Blacoe was upstairs when she heard “terrified screams”. She found Teresa Carey in an extremely distressed state and thought Valerie Byrne was dead.
Detective Sgt Eamon Curley Gardaí said the men were arrested at Dublin airport four days after the robbery. Peculius and Zienius were identified by Ms Carey and Ms Byrne as a third unknown man, Ovidijis Rumba, Kaunas, Lithuania bought their tickets home at a Ryanair desk.
The court heard Peculius and Zienius first went to the shop the day before, wearing glasses and wigs but were too afraid to follow through. They slept in their car that night, cold, hungry, and with no money.
When they’d arrived in Dublin their identity cards were taken and they were warned by a man named Antanas to commit the robbery or their families would be dealt with. They would also be paid.
They were given a car and a map of Blacoe’s jewellers in Athlone. The rings were not recovered.
Judge Kennedy said there had been not much planning but there had been “considerable violence” in overpowering the two women.
“It could hardly matter to the women that their assailants had been victims themselves, had been ‘exploited from the start, double-crossed at the end,’” he said.
He noted that the men were making the best of their time in prison and that the hardship suffered by prisoners in foreign prisons is well recognized.
However he said the wrong message could be sent out to “mules, runners and stooges” that all that would happen is that they’d be deported if caught.
Noting that the men are penniless and have no connections with Ireland, he backdated a five year sentence to March 3, 2010 when they were originally placed in custody, and suspended the balance on condition they leave Ireland and do not come back.