Men initially spared prison for assaulting Gardai are jailed following appeal

The men were jailed after an appeal by the Director of Public Prosecution
The men were jailed after an appeal by the Director of Public Prosecution

Four men spared jail for attacking two off-duty gardaí on their way home from a nightclub have been sent to jail following a finding that their original suspended sentences were “too lenient”.

Nico Barrett (22), of Humbert Street, Sligo, David Leonard (32), with a last address at Rhue, Sligo, Daniel Phelan (23), of Tower Crescent, Connolly Park, Sligo and David Skeffington (23) of Rathscanlon, Charlestown Road, Tubbercurry, Co Sligo, had all pleaded guilty at Castlebar Circuit Criminal Court to assault causing harm to two off-duty gardaí at The Square, Charlestown on June 3 2012.

Barrett, Leonard and Skeffington were each given a three year suspended sentence while Phelan was given a two year suspended sentence by Judge Rory McCabe on October 31 2014.

The Director of Public Prosecution successfully sought a review of the men's sentences on grounds that they were unduly lenient and the Court of Appeal agreed today, jailing Barrett for 14 months in prison and the other three men for 12 months each.

The Court of Appeal heard today that the victims were a couple, two off duty gardaí, who had been verbally abused by one of the four men as they made their way from a nightclub.

They were followed across the road by the group, the woman was felled to the ground and her boyfriend, while bending down to help her, received a kick to the face.

He was left unconscious by the attack and suffered permanent eye injury, the court heard. Both were out of work for five months.

The trial judge had said that all four men were fully aware that the couple were off duty gardaí.

A litany of abuse was laid at the victims within hearing of all four men, the Court of Appeal heard, which included phrases: 'that bitch is a gard'; 'two f***ing garda pigs'; 'garda scumbags'; 'she's a garda tramp' and 'you're not so big without your blue uniform'.

Speaking on behalf of the three-judge court, Mr Justice John Edwards said the seriousness of this case was such that a custodial sentence “could not have been avoided”.

Mr Justice Edwards said it was appropriate that an assault on peace officers, albeit off-duty officers, should be severely punished. Such attacks should be depricated in the interests of society, he said, and the four men must be treated severely.

It was too lenient to impose suspended sentences on condition that community service be carried out, he said. That represented a departure from what would be the norm for an assault on members of An Garda Síochána albeit members who were off duty.

Mr Justice Edwards said the sentencing judge had correctly identified four years as the starting point for the offence and there was undoubtedly substantial mitigation in favour of each man but the judge “got the balance wrong” in suspending the sentences in their entirety.

The judge said Phelan had an otherwise completely unblemished record and Leonard hadn't acquired any subsequent convictions.

Barrett had gotten into some degree of trouble, Mr Justice Edwards said. It was in circumstances where he had an addiction problem, however, he has had considerable time to address that.

There were certain adversities he was coping with, the judge said. He had a young son and his father was unwell.

Barrett was “the insitgator in what occured whom the court regards as being somewhat more culpable”.

Skeffington had also gotten into trouble since on two occasions. He had certain personal adversities, Mr Justice Edwards said, in particular, there was reference to a tragedy in the family and the court took that into account.

Mr Justice Edwards who sat with Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan, acceeded to the DPP's request, set aside the original sentences and proceeded to impose new sentences on the men from today's date.

Affording “generous mitigation” of 50 per cent off the starting point of four years, each man was sentenced to two years in prison with suspended portions of their sentences.

Effectively Phelan, Skeffington and Leonard were given 12 month jail terms while Barrett, the “instigator”, according to the court, was jailed for 14 months.

All four men had travelled to court with sports bags filled with belongings.

After the sentence was delivered they were lead away through the custody area of the courtroom to begin their sentences.