Four men face trial over ‘brutal’ attack on security staff guarding repossessed Strokestown home
Jurors were told that they should put to one side whatever biases or sympathies they may have
Four men have gone on trial for their alleged roles in a “sustained and brutal” attack on security personnel guarding a repossessed house near Strokestown, Co Roscommon five years ago.
It's the State's case that at around 5am on December 16, 2018, around 20 to 30 people wearing balaclavas, hoodies and yellow fluorescent jackets arrived at the rural property, armed with chains, pickaxe handles, a meat cleaver, baseball bats and a hurley.
The door of the house was smashed with a sledgehammer and four security men were seriously assaulted, forced to the ground, had their shoes removed and their hands tied with cable ties.
The windows and doors of the house were smashed, the men’s vans and cars were set on fire and a German Shepherd dog was beaten unconscious and had to be put down.
Tony McGillicuddy SC, prosecuting, told the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court jury that the four defendants allegedly took part in the sustained and brutal violence which was designed to terrorise and brutalise the men working there.
Patrick Sweeney (44) of High Cairn, Ramelton, Co Donegal, Martin O'Toole (58) of Stripe, Irishtown, Claremorris, Co Mayo, Paul Beirne (56) of Croghan, Boyle, Co Roscommon and David Lawlor (43) of Bailis Downs, Navan, Co. Meath have pleaded not guilty to a total of 53 charges.
Each man is separately charged with false imprisonment of and assault causing harm to Ian Gordon, Mark Rissen, John Graham, and Gary McCourtney at Falsk, Strokestown on December 16, 2018 . Each is also charged with aggravated burglary, as well as four charges of arson in relation to a car and three vans which were allegedly set alight.
The four are also each charged with criminal damage to a door of a house, to violent disorder, to robbery of a wristwatch from John Graham and, finally, to causing unnecessary suffering to an animal by causing or permitting an animal to be struck on the head.
Each defendant stood in court to hear the charges put to them and pleaded not guilty to the 17 counts.
In an opening speech to the jury Mr McGillicuddy said in 2018, court proceedings relating to a small traditional farm holding in Falsk, a rural townland about four kilometres from Strokestown, Co Roscommon, resulted in a repossession order for the house and 12 hectares.
The owner of the property, Anthony McGann lived there with two siblings and on December 11, 2018 they were forcibly removed by persons engaged on behalf of the bank.
Mr McGillicuddy said that this was a source of distress for the McGanns and for the wider community and was the subject of some publicity, both local and further afield.
Counsel told the jury that a number of security personnel, including the four named complainants, were charged by the bank with guarding the property. These security guards would stay at the house, sleeping and keeping watch in shifts.
At around 5am on December 16, a group of around 20 to 30 people arrived at the property in a truck or a lorry. Armed with pick-axes, chain saws, meat cleavers, baseball bats and sticks or hurleys, this group allegedly forced their way into the house, counsel said.
Mr McGillicuddy said the evidence would be that some of the group were wearing balaclavas, some had scarves over their mouths and a number appeared to be wearing yellow flourescent jackets.
The security guards were forced to the ground, had their shoes removed, their hands tied with cable ties and were seriously assaulted, counsel said. Windows and doors were smashed in the house and a German Shepherd guard dog was beaten into a state of unconsciousness.
The dog was later put down by a vet attending at the scene.
Mr McGillicuddy told jurors they would hear evidence that in a garda interview Mr Beirne acknowledged he had gone to the house and brought a group of men there and taken them away later. He also acknowledged that he had damaged the house door with a sledgehammer.
Counsel said that analysis of Mr Lawlor's mobile phone allegedly showed the phone moving west from the Dublin area on the night of the incident and operating in Strokestown from around 4am to 6am.
In interview, Mr O'Toole told gardai that he was at the house in Falsk on the night but that “events were nearly over” when he was there, counsel said. Mr McGillicuddy said that footage from the body camera of one of the security guards would be used by the prosecution to allegedly identify Mr O'Toole and Mr Sweeney.
Mr McGillicuddy told the jury that the case was being taken on the legal principle of joint enterprise which states that where a number of people are acting with an agreed common purpose, each of them can be held responsible for the actions of the others.
He said it's the State's case that the four defendants were involved in a joint enterprise amongst themselves and with others in Falsk on December 16, 2018 to carry out the offences charged against them.
Counsel told the jury that they would hear things during the course of the trial that were emotional in Irish history.
The concept of repossession, eviction and thatched cottages burning had a historical resonance and security men and the banks have a controversial history, he said.
Mr McGillicuddy told jurors that they should put to one side whatever biases or sympathies they may have for one group or another and they must decide the case only on the evidence.
He said it is the State's case that no activism, cause, claim, asserted right, or religious belief could justify the alleged actions of the accused men.
“Regardless of whatever beliefs they had, whatever cause they felt they were acting out, whatever asserted entitlement or whatever religious belief, it provides no justification for the assault and violence against the security men,” counsel said.
A jury was empanelled at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court on Wednesday morning and the trial opened before Judge Martin Baxter in the afternoon. It is scheduled to run for five weeks.
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