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Garda relives horrific moment drug fiend fired at him from stolen car

Crime DeskBy Lynne Kelleher
Sergeant Matt Clarke
Sergeant Matt Clarke

A heroic guard has relived the chilling moment he came face-to face with a cocked and loaded shotgun when he leaned into a stolen car, seconds before he was blasted at close range.

The unarmed Dublin sergeant was lucky to escape with his life when he was gunned down in the line of duty by 22-year-old Jonathan Radford. He was guarding a house in Crumlin after a shot was fired through the front window on September 27, 2006.

Sergeant Mark Clarke – who was awarded the Scott Medal for bravery – opens up about his deep shock in the minutes after he was shot in the hand and the chest in a new RTE documentary on the country’s youngest criminals, titled Young, Dumb and Dangerous.

When a stolen car with blacked out windows which had earlier fled the scene of a drive-by shooting pulled back up at the house, the Garda Sergeant approached it with the intention of reaching in to take the keys out of the ignition.

He said: “Just as I looked into the vehicle I saw the front seat passenger had a sawn-off shotgun and he had it cupped across his arm pointing it towards me.

“I knew straight away he was going to shoot. The shot hit me across my side and arm and I was knocked to the left off a parked car.

“Everyone was screaming and shouting on the street. I could see my hat was four or five yards up the road. I walked up to pick up the hat and as I bent down to pick it up I could see blood trickling down on to the roadway. I looked at my wrist and I saw that blood was pumping from the vein in my hand.”

As Sergeant Clarke was rushed to hospital in the back of a patrol car, Garda John Dunne was one of three guards who pursued the gunman and his two accomplices in a high-speed car chase at 7.30am.

The young driver lost control after colliding with another car and the guards gave chase to the three young criminals.

Garda John Dunne, who also received a Scott Medal for bravery, said the homeless youth carrying the sawn-off shotgun, Jonathan Radford, tried to hijack a van, but thankfully he picked the wrong driver that morning.

Jonathan Radford

“The driver was an extremely brave man, a big man, more than a match for him,” he said.

When he was ordered to drive by a cocaine-crazed Radford, the driver refused and calmly took the keys out of the ignition instead.

“This gave Garda Cruise and I the opportunity to get to the van, but to my horror a shot was discharged and my initial reaction was ‘that man is dead’,” said Garda Dunne.

“Amazingly I saw he continued to struggle. He had the presence of mind just before Radford pulled the trigger to push the barrel of the gun away and the shotgun discharged inches from his face.

“I got the opportunity at that stage to open the door of the van and I took him to the ground and cuffed him. I gave the driver of the van one of the heartiest handshakes I’ve ever given anyone in my life.

Jonathan Radford was sentenced to 12 years in prison with the last two suspended. The juvenile arrested with him received seven years with three suspended. Both were second generation drug addicts, with drug addict mothers and both had seen their drug addict stepfathers die as young children.

Garda Clarke said he has been left with 13 pellets in his chest and five in his arm that weren’t removed because they were too deep.

However, the courageous sergeant said he was anxious to get back to work after three months off recovering from his injuries.

He said: “I wanted to prove to myself and everyone that I didn’t have a problem returning to work in the same area where the incident had happened.”

The documentary on the chilling phenomenon of ultra-violence by young criminals also recalls the harrowing grief of the parents of 22-year-old rock guitarist Gavin O’Connor, who died shortly after he was horrifically clubbed with rocks and then run over.

The talented young musician had been asleep in the back of his car after attending a music festival in Lisdoonan, Co. Monaghan, when Conor McClelland (19), decided to steal his car and leaned into the back seat and took the keys out of his pocket.

When Gavin awoke and confronted McClelland, the killer stopped the car to pick up some rocks and repeatedly smashed them at the musician’s head in the back of the car.

When he saw Gavin climbing out of the car and standing in the middle of the road holding his head, he got back into the car and rammed the car over his head to make it look like a hit and run incident.

His heartbroken mother Helena O’Connor said her son loved life.

She said: “He was always very easy-going and laid-back and let nothing get to him. He was very witty, he just was our beautiful son.”

Gavin’s father Gerry breaks down in the documentary and said it took three attempts for him and his wife to walk through the door of the hospital room to see their son, as his injuries were so horrific.

He said: “His head was twice the size it should have been, but we knew it was him. It will haunt me for the rest of my life. It’s terrible how anybody could do such a thing to a human being.”

All Gavin’s friends and family were around the sound engineer student when his heart took its final beat on June 4, 2011.

Shockingly, two years later in 2013 later the couple had to deal with the tragic death of their son Patrick, who had been their rock throughout the previous years as they grappled to cope with Gavin’s loss.

“I got the phone call to say Patrick had been in a serious traffic accident. The guard said ‘settle yourselves down before you go in because your son is dead’. Helena grabbed my hand and said ‘C’mon Gerry we‘ve done this before, we have to do it again’,” said Gerry.

The following year they had to face Conor McClelland in court, where he got a mandatory life sentence and an additional concurrent three-year jail term for the assault charge.

Gerry said he dreads the day McClelland walks free from prison.

 “During the trial the forensics said the inside of the car was like a slaughter house. When they checked the outside of the car, they found skin and hair where he ran Gavin down, embedded in the windscreen, deliberately done to cover his tracks,” he said.

“Every night I have to live with that. The beating that boy got for nothing while he was asleep. He had no consideration for human life whatsoever. For him killing Gavin was like kicking a coke can down the street. He slaughtered our son and he should never get out.

“There is every possibility if I go to Carrickmacross to do a bit of shopping I’m going to meet him walking up the street. You are going to tell me that’s justice?”

Young, Dumb and Dangerous will be shown on RTE Two on Wednesday 18th May, 9.55pm.