Three Ballina men who caused a “callous”, “cowardly” and “vicious” crime against a Ballina garda when they performed an arson attack on his premises were convicted at Ballina District Court this week.
The court heard that Jonathan Meers, Newtown, Bonniconlon, Ballina; Darren Gilmartin Currowrun, Bonniconlon, Ballina; and Brian Egan Graffi, Attymass, Ballina, went to the home of Meers on March 19 this year after midnight, where they collected an empty oil drum which they then filled with kerosene stolen from the home of Ronan Fox, and then proceeded to the home of Garda Padraig Prendergast in Behybeg, Ballina. Gilmartin and Egan emerged from the car and poured the petrol onto a large hedge which was at the front of the Prendergast dwelling and set it alight.
Garda Des McCann told the court that following the arson attack the men drove to another car, which was Egan’s, and then returned to the scene in this car so they could assess the damage. When they arrived the fire brigade were at the scene, after a passer by notified Gda Prendergast — who was asleep when the incident occurred. The garage which was adjacent to the hedge was within a few feet of also catching fire on the night.
Gda McCann outlined the deep distress which was caused to Gda Prendergast after the attack and the deep sense of shock which was then resonate in the community after the “home of a garda was attacked in such a manner.”
Gda McCann said that Gda Prendergast had never prosecuted any of the three defendants and that Gda Prendergast knew all the families of each of the defendants.
Gda Prendergast, who took the stand, said that he has been in Ballina since 1982 and found the attack on his home very distressing as he questioned who would have “perpetrated such a thing” but thanked the good work achieved by Gda Des McCann, which brought the matter to such a speedy resolution. Gda Prendergast said that “annoyingly” none of the three accused “had the courtesy” to apologise to him.
Solicitor for Egan, John Gordon, said that his client was the first of the three to make a statement about the “appalling incident” and that all of his previous 25 convictions were all “car and drink related” but he is now abstaining from alcohol. Egan was also disqualified from driving the night of the incident. Egan told the court that he was deeply sorry for the “mean, uncalled for” actions that night.
Mr Alan Gannon, who was representing convicted, unemployed carpet fitter Gilmartin (21 ) said that their actions on the night were “foolish in the extreme”. Meers (21 ), who was also represented by Gannon, has previous convictions for road traffic charges.
The court heard how the cost of the repair to the hedge was €1,500 and that all of the defendants had brought compensation with them to court.
Judge Mary Devins said that there were a lot of issues to consider surrounding the case due to the fact that it was an “unprecedented attack” on a member of the Garda Síochana. Judge Devins said that the “anguish of the garda was palpable” and described the crime not just as a personal attack on a man, his home and his sense of security, but also as an attack on the community at whole.
The judge considered her sentencing overnight before she called a special sitting of Ballina District Court on Wednesday morning.
Egan was convicted and fined €500 for the theft of the oil and ordered to pay €20 to Mr Fox (from who the oil was stolen ); he was also sentenced to three months in prison which was to be suspended for 12 months; for the section two criminal damage Egan was convicted and fined €500 and sentenced to six months in prison consecutive (suspended for 12 months ), and for having no insurance was convicted and fined €800 and disqualified for five years and sentenced to three months in prison consecutive (suspended for 12 months ).
Meers for section two criminal damage was convicted and fined €500 and sentenced to prison for six months (suspended for 12 months ); for section four theft he was convicted and fined €500; ordered to pay €20 to Mr Fox and sentenced to three months concurrent (suspended for 12 months ).
Gilmartin was convicted and fined €500 and sentenced to six months in prison consecutive (suspended for 12 months ) and ordered to pay €20 to Fox.
All suspended sentences for the three defendants would come into effect on the condition that €500 compensation be paid to Gda Prendergast; that they would be on good behaviour and keep the peace for 12 months; that no convictions are recorded in these 12 months; and that no offences are committed. The judge also ordered that each of the three are to have sought voluntary work in the community from two weeks from now and were also ordered to draft a letter of apology to the Prendergast family which will be published immediately in a local publication. The compliance with all of these conditions would be reviewed on November 25 in Ballina District Court.