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Scottish footballers who carried out ‘shameful attack’ during night out in Dublin avoid jail

Gardai also saw one of the accused hit the victim with a box, which caused his head to bounce off the ground

Liam Callaghan and his co-accused Craig Johnston at an earlier court hearing

Liam Callaghan

Craig Johnston

Eimear DoddSunday World

Two Scottish footballers who carried out a ”shameful attack” during a night out in Dublin have walked free from court after being handed suspended prison sentences.

Liam Callaghan (27) and Craig Johnston (27) both pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to assault causing harm and obstruction in Dublin City Centre on December 8, 2019.

The court previously heard that the men are both semi-professional footballers with Scottish club Montrose FC. Callaghan and Johnston have addresses in Fyfe, Scotland and are cousins. They each have one previous conviction from Scotland.

Imposing sentence today, Judge Orla Crowe said the “utterly blameless” injured man had been “attacked by two men who had no reason to come down a road after him”.

The court was previously told there had been an altercation between the victim and a colleague of the two accused men at a late bar on Baggot Street.

Judge Crowe noted there had been no prior interaction between the then 52-year-old victim and the two accused, and what had happened at the late bar had “nothing to do” with Callaghan and Johnston.

Judge Crowe said this was a “shameful attack carried out by two people visiting this country” and the men had “involved themselves in a matter that was at an end”.

She said the assault had serious consequences for the victim, which was an aggravating factor in this case.

Liam Callaghan

Defence counsel told Judge Crowe that both accused had brought €6,000 to court as a token of remorse, which the victim was willing to accept.

Judge Crowe said she took into consideration as mitigation the fact that both men have no previous convictions for violence, are working and are talented footballers.

She noted that both men are very remorseful and have travelled from Scotland to attend all court dates.

Judge Crowe said Callaghan was the “more dominant” of the two men during the attack, having thrown the first punch, but Johnston joined in.

She imposed a two-year prison sentence on both men. Judge Crowe said in the circumstances, she would suspend the sentence in full on condition that both men keep the peace for two years.

She also directed that the gesture of remorse from both men was to be handed over to the victim.

Garda Emmet Hayde gave evidence at a previous sitting that on the night in question, the victim and his partner stopped at Xico on Baggot Street at around 1am for a drink before heading home after an evening out.

While at the bar, the victim was involved in an altercation with a colleague of Callaghan and Johnston and was asked to leave. The couple were walking on Lower Baggot Street towards St Stephen's Green to get a taxi at around 2am when the victim heard shouts behind him.

He turned around to see what was happening and was punched in the jaw by Callaghan, who was identified from CCTV footage. A passer-by attempted to intervene to stop the assault. Johnston then arrived and, along with Callaghan, tried to get at the victim.

The passer-by took the victim down Ely Place to try to get away, but both accused followed and continued their attack. One of them picked up a traffic cone and swung it at the victim. A garda public order unit was in the area and observed the assault.

Gardai also saw one of the accused hit the victim with a box, which caused his head to bounce off the ground. The two men attempted to flee but were apprehended by gardai.

The injured party was taken to hospital where he was treated for injuries to his face, lower leg and ankle. He required three surgeries on his ankle. His left eye socket was also fractured, but he sustained no serious injury to his eye.

Photos of the victim’s injuries and CCTV footage of the incident were shown to the court.

Prosecuting counsel read the victim impact statement to the court. The victim said his “Christmas was ruined” by the attack, which has also caused bouts of depression and anxiety in crowds.

The victim said he had missed opportunities to work abroad and suffered an economic loss of over €6,000 due to this incident.

Gda Hayde agreed with defence counsel that neither defendant has come to any negative garda attention since this incident. He also accepted that an altercation had taken place between the victim and a colleague of the defendants at Xico.

Gda Hayde told Karl Monahan BL, defending Callaghan, that gardai were not initially aware of any altercation at the car. Gardai also sought CCTV from Xico, but this was not available.

Craig Johnston

Mr Monahan read a letter to the court from the defendants’ colleague, who gave their account of the altercation at the bar. Mr Monahan said this incident had been on Callaghan's mind, though his reaction was disproportionate.

Judge Crowe said Callaghan’s reaction was “completely disproportionate” as he had followed the victim onto a public street.

This individual was not known to the investigating gardai until the morning of the hearing and had not made a witness statement.

Callaghan took the stand and apologised directly to the victim on his and Johnston’s behalf for what happened. Defence counsel said both Callaghan and Johnston are semi-professional footballers who also work full-time.

Both men were co-operative and have travelled from Scotland to attend court dates as required. Callaghan and Johnston are both remorseful and sorry for their actions, which were out of character, the court was told.

Character references from the defendants' employers and Montrose FC were handed to the court.

Both defendants have recently signed contract extensions with the Scottish club. The defendants had also lost a close friend in tragic circumstances in the months before this incident.

The defendants had each offered €2,000 as a gesture of remorse at a previous hearing in July 2022.

However, Judge Crowe said that the token of remorse offered was not sufficient, given their work histories, to show the “level of sincerity warranted”.

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