“A well executed and planned onslaught on Galway city,” was how a district court judge described the actions of two Athlone women who dared to target 11 different shops stealing more than €3,600 worth of goods.
Judge Mary Fahy made the comment after hearing evidence of the sophisticated shop lifting sprees and of the audacity displayed by the culprits who came back to Galway city on two consecutive Sundays when staffing levels were low. Judge Fahy convicted Sarah Cunniffe (29 ) of 7 Battery Heights, Athlone, and Sabrina Nestor (30 ) of 2 Cherryfield Avenue, Battery Heights, Athlone, and imposed a 15 month prison sentence. However, an appeal was later lodged.
Monday’s sitting of Galway District Court heard how the two women, accompanied by a man, travelled to Galway city on August 16, 2009, and stole items from Evergreen (€600.12 ), Options (€454.55 ), and Birthdays (€57.10 ), at the Galway Shopping centre. The trio then moved on to Eyre Square Shopping Centre stealing items from New Look (€28 ), Swamp (€28 ), and Vera Moda (€54.85 ), and from TopShop (€91 ) in Edward Square, before hitting River Island (€475.50 ) in Shop Street.
The following Sunday, August 23, the same trio returned to Galway and stole items from Evergreen (€622.86 ), O’Flaherty’s pharmacy (€850 ), Miss Selfridges (€95 ), and Dorothy Perkins (€30 ) at Galway Shopping Centre. They then returned to River Island in Shop Street and stole clothing valued at €283.50.
Detective Garda Thomas Doyle gave evidence that on August 23, he received a call to go to River Island where staff reported the theft of clothing. The staff also informed him that the store had been targeted the previous Sunday by the same culprits - one male and two females. CCTV footage obtained from the store revealed the identity of the male who was known to be from Athlone, however, the identity of his accomplices was not as clear.
Investigations soon led to the identification of Cunniffe and Det Garda Doyle travelled to her home in Athlone where Nestor was also found to be present. The court heard that when questioned the two women made admissions to 13 other thefts. Explaining how the thefts were executed, Det Garda Doyle said that the male accomplice had been in possession of a tool used to remove tags and he would also change his clothing between premises. The court heard that Cunniffe and Nestor both carried large shoulder bags to carry the stolen goods, that they wore caps to hide their faces from CCTV, and that they would also specifically choose items from lower shelves. Some of the clothing was returned by the defendants, however much of it was not fit for resale having been damaged from being worn or from the removal of tags. Det Garda Doyle added that both defendants co-operated fully with gardai. The court then heard that Cunniffe has one previous convictions for theft of food in 2009 while Nestor has 23 previous convictions, mainly for theft.
Defence solicitor Adrian MacLynn said that Cunniffe has four children and that Nestor is a married mother of six children. He then asked Judge Fahy to consider an alternative to a custodial sentence.
“They deliberately left their homes and their very young children to come up here and to take as much as physically possible... I’d imagine they are well known in Athlone and that is why they picked Galway... It’s bad enough to do it once, but they came up a week later, left their children again, to go on another huge spree,” said Judge Fahy.
Judge Fahy then convicted and sentenced Cunniffe to 20 months in jail with the final five months suspended for two years, while Nestor was sentenced to 21 months with the final six months suspended for two years. Conditions of the suspended portion of the sentence included that the defendants enter into a bond of €500 to be of good behaviour and stay away from Galway city and county.