Dubliner caught with shotgun at shopping centre sent to jail

Wayne Ellis
Wayne Ellis

A Dublin man given a wholly suspended sentence for his third offence under the firearms act, has been sent to jail following an undue leniency appeal by prosecutors.

Lawyers for Wayne Ellis (34), with an address at Landen Road, Ballyfermot, had challenged the constitutionality of mandatory minimum five year sentences for second offences under the Firearm Act but the constitutionality of the relevant legislation was upheld.

Ellis had pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to possession of a firearm in suspicious circumstances as well as certain articles at Knocklyon Shopping Centre on July 5, 2012. Judge Mary Ellen Ring gave him a wholly suspended sentence on May 26, 2014.

However, the Court of Appeal found today that his sentence was “unduly lenient” and he was lead away to begin serving a five year term of imprisonment.

Giving judgment, Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan said gardaí had been monitoring the movements of a particular car on the day in question and decided to intercept the vehicle as it approached a post office and cash in transit van.

The car was surrounded by armed gardaí who observed a shotgun and sledge hammer in the rear passenger foot well. There was also an unlabelled bottle later proved to contain petrol.

The sawn-off double barrelled shot gun was unloaded and Ellis was in the rear of the car while two co-accused were in the front.

Mr Justice Sheehan said Elllis had been a heroin addict, abusing illegal substances since the age of 13, and had spent most of his 20s in prison.

The fact that he had been drug free for two years by the time he came to be sentenced “seriously influenced the sentencing judge”, Mr Justice Sheehan said. He also had a partner and young child.

Counsel for the DPP, Gerardine Small BL, said Ellis had two previous convictions under the firearms act and, as such, an actual mandatory minimum sentence of five years had to be imposed.

It was “absolutely mandatory”, Ms Small said.

The High Court upheld the Constitutionality of the relevant legislation following a challenge by Ellis' lawyers lead by Caroline Biggs SC.

The High Court also refused a declaration that the mandatory minimum five year prison sentence for a second firearm offence was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Justice Sheehan said the principle issue before the Court of Appeal was whether the Circuit Court judge was entitled to depart from the minimum five year sentence given Ellis' previous convictions for firearms.

But that matter had “now been settled” by the High Court.

Mr Justice Sheehan said the Circuit Court judge was not entitled to suspend any part of the five year sentence because of Ellis' relevant previous conviction.

He said Ellis had made “a significant breakthrough in his life”. “He appears to be making huge strides in overcoming his addiction” and the court was satisfied that there was no need to impose more than five years.

Mr Justice Sheehan, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Edwards, said the second offence committed by Ellis at Knocklyon Shopping Centre was “without doubt extremely serious”.

It was clear that an “armed robbery was intended” and Ellis was part of a group which also intended to subsequently destroy forensic evidence of the crime, he said.

The Court of Appeal did not interfere with the second count due to the fact that an experienced trial judge decided this was one of those unusual cases where the public interest was best served by a suspended sentence because an accused had struggled successfully to rehabilitate and become drug free.

Ellis embraced a supporter in court before being lead away to begin his sentence.

The court was told that the High Court's judgment was being appealed.