Three youths who allegedly tried to burn out a local businessman and his family in order to continue drug dealing in front of his premises were all told this week (April 23 ) that the accusations were so serious they could not be heard in the District Court.
A total of €62,000 worth of damage was done to a car and the rear of Walsh’s supermarket on Connaught Street in the early hours of August 29.
Indeed, in the opinion of Inspector Aidan Minnock, because of the proximity of the burning vehicle to the only exit, had it not been for the prompt work of the fire brigade, gardaí feared for the lives of both Mr and Mrs Walsh that night.
Stephen Malone (19 ) of no fixed abode, but formerly from McCormack Park, Athlone, is accused of buying the petrol at the Grove Filling Station, Baylough, at 12.30am before allegedly pouring it over a BMW parked behind the supermarket a little later.
He was handed his book of evidence and ordered to appear at Mullingar Circuit Court, sitting in Tullamore, on July 15 for trial.
However, his two co-accused are both under 18 and so appeared before an empty court a little later to hear their charges, and more importantly, whether Judge Seamus Hughes would accept jurisdiction.
Of the two co-accused, one is charged with lighting the petrol, while the other allegedly acted as a look-out for the gang.
Because Malone was simply given his book of evidence and Circuit Court date earlier, this was the first time Judge Seamus Hughes got to hear the details of the allegations against the three, and he enquired of the inspector as to any possible motive.
“It’s the Gardaí’s submission that Mr Walsh was trying to prevent drug activity in and around the entrance of his shop,” said Inspector Minnock, before intimating the arson was at the instigation of those higher up the narcotics hierarchy in Athlone.
“I’m refusing jurisdiction. It’s going forward. I’ve heard the motive and that put the kibosh on it,” said the judge.
“It’s too serious. This was a planned escapade at the behest of drug lords that endangered two lives,” he continued.
The inspector told the court that the DPP had originally recommended trial by indictment for the two under-18s, and that he “could serve the books of evidence today”.
However, the judge remanded the two on continuing bail until May 14 because he wanted a DPP direction rather than a recommendation on how to proceed with the two.