unlawful killing | 

Man who killed Vincent Kelly (45) in one punch attack outside Wicklow hotel is jailed

Paul O'Carroll (47) was handed a five year sentence with the final six months suspended on strict conditions

Eimear DoddSunday World

A man who killed another man in a one punch assault outside a hotel has been handed a four and a half year prison sentence.

Vincent Kelly (45) died from serious head injuries after he was punched once by Paul O'Carroll (47) outside the Royal Hotel, Bray, Co Wicklow, in the early hours of June 9, 2018.

O'Carroll of St Peter's Place, Bray was found guilty of the unlawful killing of Mr Kelly following a trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court in May this year.

The court heard that on the night in question, O'Carroll took Mr Kelly's drink and left it outside of the hotel.

Mr Kelly followed shortly afterwards to get his drink back and O'Carroll then struck Mr Kelly once, causing the victim to fall to the ground.

O'Carroll told gardai that he had felt under threat and struck pre-emptively in self-defence because Mr Kelly was acting irrationally but this was rejected by the jury.

Imposing sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court on Tuesday, Judge Orla Crowe said O'Carroll bears a high degree of moral culpability for his actions. She said this was a “one punch assault” which resulted in the death of the “unfortunate Mr Kelly”.

Judge Crowe said Mr Kelly may have been intoxicated and “his company may have been less than welcome” but O'Carroll could have left if he found the victim's company “so objectionable”.

Judge Crowe said O'Carroll could have left Mr Kelly's drink in the lobby, but instead he brought it outside and Mr Kelly followed to retrieve it.

She handed O'Carroll a five year sentence with the final six months suspended on strict conditions.

Detective Sergeant Eamonn O'Neill of Bray Garda Station told the earlier sentence hearing Mr Kelly, who lived in Newtownmountkennedy, was staying at the Royal Hotel in Bray at the time.

He went to the hotel bar at 9pm on June 8, 2019 where he was seen drinking, later joining other patrons. When the bar closed, the remaining patrons, including Mr Kelly, moved to the lobby.

O'Carroll was finishing a drink with another individual.

Det Sgt O'Neill agreed with Garnet Orange SC, prosecuting, that Mr Kelly's behaviour appeared to be annoying some people in the lobby. O'Carroll's companion took Mr Kelly's drink and moved it to another table.

Mr Kelly retrieved his drink and went back to the group. O'Carroll then took Mr Kelly's pint, and walked out of the hotel. He left the drink on a surface outside.

Mr Kelly followed shortly afterwards to retrieve his drink and O'Carroll then struck Mr Kelly once in the face. Mr Kelly fell back and sustained catastrophic injuries to his head.

O'Carroll immediately went to help the victim and others also assisted Mr Kelly until the emergency services arrived. CCTV footage did not show Mr Kelly raising his hands to defend himself or strike O'Carroll.

Mr Kelly was taken to St Vincent's Hospital then transferred to Beaumont Hospital. He later suffered a heart attack and died in the early hours of June 10, 2018.

Former deputy state pathologist Dr Michael Curtis gave evidence during the trial that Mr Kelly died as a result of the head injury.

O'Carroll left the scene before gardai arrived, but made a voluntary statement at Bray Garda Station the following day with his solicitor present. O'Carroll has 21 previous convictions, including nine for possession of drugs and one for assault.

Mr O'Higgins said this was an “unforeseen and spontaneous act of violence”. The punch used “moderate force” and would not generally lead to death, Mr O'Higgins said.

However, the blow led to consequences which would not be expected from similar incidents where a person is struck once on the face, he said.

Mr O'Higgins said this was not a crime of intention, but the punch had caused the victim, who had been drinking, to fall to the ground. Mr O'Higgins said O'Carroll's immediate attempts to help indicated that he had not acted out of rage.

While O'Carroll was culpable for striking the victim, the circumstances which lead to the confrontation were not of his making, Mr O'Higgins said, adding that it was a moment of “bad judgement”.

Judge Crowe noted that victim impact statements from Mr Kelly's family showed the “heartbreak and devastation” suffered in the wake of his death. The statements also showed him to be a man who was “greatly loved and cherished”.

She noted the aggravating factors include O'Carroll's previous convictions, including for assault in 1999. Judge Crowe noted that O'Carroll also fully contested the trial, though some concessions were made in relation to the evidence.

She set a headline sentence of seven years.

Judge Crowe noted O'Carroll had offered assistance to Mr Kelly, but left the scene before emergency services arrived. O'Carroll also told gardai that he had struck the blow to Mr Kelly outside the hotel.

Judge Crowe noted O'Carroll's expressions of remorse and his community work.

She imposed a five year sentence with the final six months suspended for two years on strict conditions, including that O'Carroll place himself under the supervision of the Probation Service.

Mr O'Higgins asked Judge Crowe to defer the start of the sentence until after Christmas. Judge Crowe refused this application, stating that the “sentence has to be served”.

The Royal Hotel, Bray.

At the earlier sentencing hearing, Mr Kelly’s sister Andrea read from a victim impact statement that their family have been left “devastated” and “shattered”.

She described Mr Kelly as a “brother, cousin, nephew and friend”. She said the facts heard during the trial had “broken us more” as the man described was “not our brother”.

Ms Kelly said the family's world has been “changed forever”.

“We are left wondering if he [Mr Kelly] had not been in Bray, would he still be alive,” Ms Kelly said, adding that it had taken her time to go back to the town.

Ms Kelly said the trial had provided the family with “a sense of closure” and her brother could now rest, but would “live on in their hearts”.

A victim impact statement on behalf of Mr Kelly's wife was also read to the court by Mr Orange.

She said that Mr Kelly's death had caused “great turmoil” to her and their children. She had felt shock when she was told of his injuries and the likely outcome.

The realisation that she would have to break the news to their children was “devastating”. She said the children tried to avoid going to Bray for a time following this incident.

Mr Kelly's wife said she now fears as the children grow older, they will develop a deeper awareness of the circumstances of their father's death which will cause fresh upset.

Det Sgt O'Neill agreed with Mr O'Higgins that the assault charge dates back to 1999 and there was a period between 2008 and 2021 when his client did not pick up new charges.

Mr O'Higgins apologised to Mr Kelly and his family on behalf of O'Carroll. He said O'Carroll lives with his partner and is the father of two adult children and is also a grandfather.

O'Carroll had worked as a plasterer until 2016, when he was advised to change career following a workplace accident. O'Carroll is very involved in the local community and a volunteer with community groups and charities.

Ian Neary, club secretary of St Peter's Football Club, gave evidence that he had known O'Carroll for 12 years and the defendant had climbed Kilimanjaro in 2018 to fundraise for the club.

Many testimonials were also handed into the court from friends and some of the community groups O'Carroll has been involved with.

Mr O'Higgins said O'Carroll had been nominated for a local award in 2019 for his work with the Tidy Towns.

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