Jekyll and Hyde | 

Robber who broke bottle over man's head and kicked him repeatedly in attack jailed

Prior to the violent attack, Dublin man Joseph O'Brien robbed the same pharmacy twice with a knife and screwdriver

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Brion Hoban

A man who broke a glass bottle over an unsuspecting man's head during a violent street robbery has been jailed for five years.

Joseph O'Brien (35) twice struck the man on the back of the head with the bottle. The victim fell to the ground and was kicked repeatedly before his phone was stolen.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that two days prior to this robbery, O'Brien went into a pharmacy with a knife, grabbed a member of staff and forced her to open the till.

The court heard that three months later, O'Brien committed another robbery at the same pharmacy, during which he grabbed a member of staff and held a screwdriver towards her neck.

O'Brien of Reuben Walk, Rialto, Dublin pleaded guilty to robbery at James Street, Dublin City centre, on January 21, 2019.

He also pleaded guilty to robbery at a pharmacy on James Street on January 19, 2019, and to a further robbery of the same pharmacy on April 23, 2019.

His 56 previous convictions include robbery, attempted robbery, burglary, theft, assault of a peace officer, possession of drugs for sale or supply and endangerment.

Passing sentence today, Judge Melanie Greally said that each count individually is “a serious and aggravated robbery”.

The judge said the offences were committed while O'Brien was serving the suspended portion of a sentence, which further aggravates them. She noted he has a drug difficulty and has been described as “a Jekyll and Hyde character”.

She said a probation report before the court was “largely positive” and that the accused has expressed an ambition to take up voluntary drug treatment upon his release.

Judge Greally sentenced O'Brien to seven years imprisonment, but suspended the final two years on strict conditions, including that he follow all directions of the Probation Service for 12 months post release.

Garda Kevin Quinn told Derek Cooney BL, prosecuting, that on January 21, 2019, a man had left a pub and was waiting for a taxi on James Street when he was struck on the back of the head with a glass bottle.

Gda Quinn said the victim fell to the ground and was again struck to the back of his head. He was kicked between 20 and 30 times while on the ground and his phone was stolen.

A witness to the robbery saw O'Brien produce the bottle and hit the man with it, while a woman also took part in the robbery by kicking the man two or three times.

The victim suffered a laceration to his head which required stitches, as well as heavy facial bruising, black eyes and a broken tooth.

Gda Quinn agreed with Emer Ní Chúagáin BL, defending, that her client has a history of conviction from a very young age. He agreed the offence was related to O'Brien's drug addiction.

Ms Ní Chúagáin said her client began using drugs aged 16 and became dependent on crack cocaine and heroin. She said her client was homeless for periods of time throughout his life, but became clean of drugs while in custody.

Counsel said that following his release from custody, her client lost the employment he had secured and then relapsed after also losing his accommodation. She said her client is again drug free and has been in custody since March 2020.

She said her client is working to address his addiction while in custody and is willing to engage with the Probation Service.

A local garda told Mr Cooney that two days prior to the robbery on James Street, O'Brien entered a nearby pharmacy, announced “this is a robbery” and claimed he had a gun.

O'Brien grabbed a member of staff by the arm and dragged her towards a till. He had a knife with him and the woman felt something “tipping” against the right side of her jaw, the garda said.

He marched the woman around to the till and told her to open it, stealing the contents once she did so and fleeing the store. Approximately €300 was stolen and has not been recovered.

The garda agreed with Ms Ní Chúagáin that this offence appears to be linked to her client attempting to feed his drug addiction.

O’Brien robbed the same pharmacy almost three months later, grabbing a staff member by her neck and chest area when she tried to run away. He was armed with a screwdriver and demanded money from the till.

He managed to open the till himself and let the woman go. He pulled the tray from the register and picked up the notes and coins when they fell to the floor.

O’Brien ran out of the pharmacy, but was later nominated as a suspect after gardaí viewed CCTV footage of the robbery. He made no admissions in a subsequent garda interview.

The staff member attended her GP for mild pain and tenderness to her chest and neck area from being held so tightly by O’Brien.

She still suffers from anxiety as a result of the raid and had to take a number of weeks of work. She said the screwdriver was held towards her neck and she had never been threatened with a weapon before.

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