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Pensioner accused of ramming car through Trinity gates not guilty by reason of insanity

The aftermath of the incident in 2014
The aftermath of the incident in 2014

A 69-year-old man accused of ramming his car through the front gates of Trinity College has been found not guilty of criminal damage and road traffic offences by reason of insanity.

John Farrell, of Fassaugh Road, Cabra, Dublin, caused over €33,000 worth of damage when he went on a rampage through Trinity and the city centre shortly after 6am on April 2, 2014.

The main cost of the damage went towards replacing the college’s 18th century wooden entrance gates, which were effectively destroyed when Mr Farrell smashed his Mercedes through them.

On the day, Mr Farrell said, “I’m sorry for what I done (sic). I don't want fame, I just want peace of mind.”

At the start of his trial on Wednesday at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Mr Farrell denied five counts of criminal damage, four counts of endangerment by driving towards people at speed, three counts of dangerous driving and two counts of failing to stop after a collision.

The jury, composed on nine men and three women, took just 42 minutes today to return with a unanimous verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity on all 14 counts against Mr Farrell.

Before the jury went out, Judge Patricia Ryan reminded them that Dr Paul O’Connor, consultant psychiatrist at the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum, gave evidence at the start of the trial that Mr Farrell was suffering from “hyper-mania” at the time of the incident.

Dr O’Connor said Mr Farrell satisfied the legal definition of insanity, in that he did not know that what he was doing was morally wrong and lacked the capacity to take on board the gravity or consequences of his actions.

Furthermore, Dr O’Connell said Mr Farrell was unable to refrain or stop himself on the day, nor to consider alternative courses of actions.

Judge Ryan noted that Dr O’Connell also said Mr Farrell had been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, had undergone several periods of hospitalisation, and had a history of aggression since 2004.

At the start of the trial Anne Rowland BL, prosecuting, said Mr Farrell did not dispute any of the actions alleged against him. She said it would be up to the jury to decide on the mens rea, or mental intention, of Mr Farrell on the day.

Garda Anthony Brazil told the prosecution that security officer at Trinity, Alan Currivan, opened the front gates of Trinity at 6:15am to a van with two men who were due to carry out upholstery work in the college.

Mr Farrell drove a black Mercedes through the gates after the van, with music blaring loudly from his radio and the window down.

Mr Currivan said Mr Farrell had a “stern stare” and looked vacant as he refused to turn down his radio and then accelerated into the front square at speed.

John O'Rourke, security superintendent at Trinity, had seen the Mercedes coming in on CCTV and ordered the narrow steel gates at the back of the college to be closed and two steel barriers to be placed in front of them.

Another security guard, David Doolan, stopped Mr Farrell's car and noticed that his tongue was pressed against his lower lip and his eyes were bulging out of his head.

Mr Farrell asked Mr Doolan, “where am I?” but drove off before he got an answer. The accused then did a u-turn in the college's rugby car park and drove directly at two security men who had to jump out of the way.

As the car passed, security guard Jerry O'Connor tried to open the driver's door, injuring his hand on the car mirror.

Mr Farrell then drove over flowerbeds, scattering people who panicked and ran for shelter, and smashed straight through two steel barriers and a set of iron gates, with sparks flying as one of the barriers caught his front bumper.

Security men shouted at four or five cleaning staff to get out of the way, and then Mr Farrell drove at speed towards the closed wooden front gates, shouting at Mr Currivan, “Open them (sic) fucking gates”.

He made no impact the first time, but reversed and drove at the gates harder, breaking through on the third go and hitting a college van on the far side.

College employee Jeremiah Harte, who had got out of his car and was waiting outside the front gate to start work, saw the bottom of the gates being pushed out and a car bursting through.

He said he was shaking and “absolutely shocked and terrified” and jumped out of the way for fear of getting hit.

Mr Farrell screamed and shouted at Mr Harte to get his car out of the way, then kept revving his own car until he managed to push Mr Harte's car right out onto College Green, clear of the gates.

A first-year medicine student, Áine Redmond, had arrived to study at the college's 24-hr library when she saw Mr Farrell's car bonnet push through the closed gates. She was only a few feet way, and turned and fled onto College Green.

Gardaí at this stage were monitoring Mr Farrell's movements as he drove up Grafton Street Lower at speed, scattering traffic and pedestrians. He drove up Nassau Street and turned into Dawson Street, driving against the traffic up a one-way street.

Keith O'Connor, who had just dropped a friend off to work, slowed down his car when he saw Mr Farrell's car approaching and stopping, with Mr Farrell waving his hands as if to motion him out of the way.

Mr Farrell then accelerated right into Mr O'Connor's car twice, driving aggressively with his foot on the pedal.

Gardaí arrived and took the key from the ignition in the accused's car, but it took four officers to prise Mr Farrell's hands from his very tight grip on the steering wheel.

He repeatedly told gardaí to “get the fuck off him” but was restrained and handcuffed and brought to Pearse Street Garda Station.

Gardaí thought Mr Farrell was heavily intoxicated, but a blood test showed zero presence of alcohol in his system.

Mr Farrell was asked later that day whether he was suffering from any illness and replied, “I haven't a fucking clue.”

When asked if he remembered driving into the Trinity gates, he said he had heard a bang and some noises but thought he was driving into his own gates at home.

Gardaí asked what had motivated Mr Farrell on the day and he said, “People wouldn’t listen, I was sick of talking.”

After his arrest, Mr Farrell was assessed by a doctor who said he was “thought-disordered and lacking insight” and committed him to a psychiatric unit.