A 29-year-old Tuam man who continually targeted NUI Galway prowling the campus and committing a number of offences including taking handbags from the church, stealing a car carrying a laptop with sensitive medical information, and selling off the pieces of a medallion and chain worth €5,000 to a cash for goods store, has been jailed for 21 months and disqualified from driving for five years.
Charles Cunniffe currently of no fixed abode but formerly of Tullinadaly Road and Cloomore, Tuam, appeared before Judge Mary Fahy at yesterday’s sitting of Galway District Court charged with a plethora of offences for which he pleaded guilty.
Inspector Mick Coppinger told the court that on June 25, 2012, a man had been using the gym at Kingfisher club at NUI Galway and had gone into the shower. Meanwhile, the defendant asked personnel if he could use the bathroom but when he entered the changing room area he stole the other man’s jeans out of the gear bag along with an iPhone valued at €400, keys, and €300 cash. Gardai viewed CCTV footage and recognised the defendant as the perpetrator.
On March 1, 2012 a woman had reported that her handbag, containing €30 cash, had been stolen from the church on the NUI Galway campus. Footage of the incident identified the defendant and the bag was retrieved but the money was missing. On another occasion gardai had been at Cunniffe’s temporary hostel residence and were searching a bag when they found a silver Smurfit Business School Law chain and medallion, worth €5,000, and which had been reported stolen from the Law Society office on a date unknown between February 1 and 8, 2012. Cunniffe admitted stealing the chain and breaking it up and selling off pieces as scrap to a city centre cash for goods shop. On February 24, 2012, the defendant was again prowling around the NUI Galway campus and entered the office of a member of management and committed burglary. A laptop was taken and was never recovered. Another burglary occurred on February 27 at Room 340 at the Arts Millenium Building at NUI Galway in which a handbag containing cash to the value of €500 was taken. The defendant later admitted to gardai that he had used the stolen money to pay for compensation in relation to another matter before the court.
Inspector Coppinger told the court that on February 18, 2012, a woman called into the church on the NUI Galway campus and while speaking to the priest there she left her handbag down. She later turned around to find that her handbag containing her car keys had been stolen. When she went outside she discovered that her car had also been taken. The car was recovered in the Tuam area on March 2 and the defendant admitted to committing the crime. The court then heard that the injured party is a doctor and that a laptop containing important and sensitive information had been in the car when it was taken and that it was never recovered.
Referring to the ncident involving the cash for goods shop, Judge Fahy said it raises the question of why these types of shops do not make proper enquiries before handing over money for goods which could potentially be stolen. Inspector Coppinger replied: “It is a matter that is being looked into.” Judge Fahy then questioned how Cunniffe is able to enter and gain access to offices at the university, adding that perhaps the issue of security needed to be looked into and that the defendant had a grudge against NUI Galway and was targeting it.
Inspector Coppinger informed her that “credit has to be given to the security and CCTV on the campus” as it led to a number of these matters being solved. He added that Cunniffe “does spend an unhealthy amount of time on the campus for a person who has no business being there.” When asked why he persists on re-offending at NUI Galway Cunniffe said that he had no excuse, just that he had once “tried to apply” and had “problems with some students up there”.
Defence solicitor Brian Gilmartin stressed that many of the theft charges occurred within a relatively short period of time and that Cunniffe, who has 21 previous convictions, had volunteered information leading to the retrieval of some of the items.
“There is something very very low to go into a church where people are looking for reflection to steal property. I am surprised that he would stoop that low,” said Judge Fahy before convicting Cunniffe and imposing a total sentence of 21 months in jail and a five year disqualification from driving. He was given a further five month sentence which was suspended for three years on condition that he enter into his own bond of €300 to be of good behaviour and stay away from NUI Galway, its church, the gym, and all facilities and total environs. The sentence was backdated to November 4 and leave to appeal was granted.