Heroin addict has sentence for violent incident in 'vulnerable' man's home increased on appeal

The Court of Appeal found Sweeney's sentence to be “unduly lenient”
The Court of Appeal found Sweeney's sentence to be “unduly lenient”

A heroin addict jailed for violent disorder in a “vulnerable” man's home has had his prison sentence increased following an appeal by prosecutors.

Richard Sweeney (27), of Railway Lough, Belturbet, Co Cavan had pleaded guilty at Cavan Circuit Criminal Court to violent disorder in the home of Mr William White in Belturbet on the night of February 24, 2014.

He was sentenced to two years imprisonment with the final six months suspended by Judge John O'Hagan on March 10, 2015.

The Court of Appeal found Sweeney's sentence to be “unduly lenient” on foot of an appeal by prosecutors. He was accordingly re-sentenced to four years imprisonment with the final year suspended today.

Giving judgment in the three-judge court, Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan said Sweeney was one of four men who went to the home of Mr William White in Belturbet between 9pm and 11pm on the date in question.

Detective Garda Paul Cullen told the Circuit Court that Mr White was 59 at the time and lived alone in the home he had grown up in. Det Cullen said Mr White had a simple way of life, was “somewhat vulnerable” and was held in high esteem by the community.

Mr Justice Sheehan said the four men pushed through Mr White's unlocked kitchen door. One of the men had a knife and he told Mr White that he would cut his throat.

He was hit on the head with a steel object which he thought was his own poker.

After he fell, all four began kicking him and kept kicking him about the head telling him they would kill him. All four had their faces covered.

Sweeney had moved to Belturbet about one month earlier in an attempt to deal with his drug addiction. He had one previous conviction for theft of a bottle of vodka.

The mitigating factors identified by the Circuit Court were his guilty plea, remorse and capacity to rehabilitate himself. It also appeared that he was not the instigator of the offence, Mr Justice Sheehan said.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Monica Lawlor BL, highlighted the following factors as relevant. Sweeney was part of a gang of four men; The offence was planned and premeditated; He intended to cause harm; Weapons were used in the assault and the victim was told that he would be killed; It occurred in the home of the victim violating his Constitutional right and Mr White was a vulnerable person who lead a simple life in the home he had grown up in.

Mr Justice Sheehan said the original sentence imposed on Sweeney “fell considerably short” to mark the seriousness of the offending behaviour in this case. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal held that the original sentence was “unduly lenient”.

Mr Justice Sheehan said Sweeney had failed to attend court on the adjourned date of the DPP's appeal and it was necessary for the three-judge court to issue a warrant for his arrest.

While he had initially made some progress on his release, he was unable to sustain this and relapsed into drug use to such an extent that the latest probation report described him as using heroin on a daily basis, the judge said.

Mr Justice Sheehan, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Edwards, resentenced Sweeney to four years imprisonment with the final year suspended.

He was given credit for time already served and was required to enter into a good behaviour bond for the suspended period. He undertook to be so bound.