Abigail Rieley

Writer and Author

Tag: Paul Carney (page 2 of 2)

Murderers and Rapists and Some Figures

It’s been a long week and I haven’t been posting here as often as I should.  I’ve missed a couple of court related things that I had meant to write up and apologies for that.

On Thursday for example the Court Service launched their annual report – big news when you’re in my line of work.  I’ve linked to the synopsis of the main figures so I won’t go into them in detail but the one I was most concerned with was the murder stats.  They were up once again, not because of an increase in murders, but because of the rate at which the courts are dealing with them.  Since murders are my bread and butter work this was good news for me…and I know that other rises have been a cause of relief to colleagues who work in other areas as well.

I wasn’t around to write about the figures because I had to make a trip down to Galway for the sentencing of Gerald Barry for rape.  He was sentenced on Friday to two life sentences.  He’s already serving one for the murder of Manuela Riedo, the Swiss student he killed only eight weeks after this rape.

He will serve all three sentences at once, rather than one after the other.  That’s the way sentences work here.  Most will be concurrent, unless the crime was committed while on bail for a separate offence.  It’s not a great rule and with an animal like Barry it just doesn’t seem fair.

Judge Paul Carney was extremely outspoken in his sentencing.  He told Barry that he did not deserve to have the 25% off that every convicted man or women can look forward to as a carrot to encourage good behaviour in jail.  This is another point on Irish sentencing that can be extremely hard to explain to those not familiar with the workings of Irish courts.

Why should someone who has killed someone in cold blood be entitled to the knowledge that the sentence they are handed will automatically be shorter than the one read out in court?  It’s one of those things, like the fact that Irish judges cannot give a recommendation on the minimum part of a life sentence that should be served before the convicted is allowed to be eligible for bail.  This is the situation in the UK but not here…an Irish life sentence can be as little as 12 years…but that’s something for another day.

All in all it’s been a very busy week.  Next week the courts rise for their summer vacation and I will be back at the keyboard working on this year’s book.  I must admit I’m looking forward to it.

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A Savage Animal

Gerald Barry was today facing a life sentence for the second time this year.  He is already serving a mandatory life sentence for the murder of Swiss student Manuela Riedo in Galway in September 2007.

Today we heard, in chilling detail, how just eight weeks previously he had brutally raped a 21-year-old French student.  There were haunting similarities between the two attacks and the graphic account given by the first victim must to some extent mirrored how Manuela spent her final hours.

The victim of the rape, a few years older than the Swiss girl, had been out with friends that night.  At the end of the night, not being able to find a taxi, she decided to walk home.  As she was walking through the Mervue area of Galway she passed a man.  A few steps later she realised he was following her.

Barry grabbed her by her hair and pressed something she thought was a knife to her throat.  Then he dragged her into the grounds of a local GAA club and subjected her to a horrific rape.

He repeatedly both orally and anally raped her while he threatened to kill her if she tried to escape.  During the attack he also asked her if she was enjoying it.  After the final anal rape he saw that she was bleeding and told her “Hey, you’re bleeding.  Great.”

In a victim impact statement read to the court the student, who was not present in court, said she was still coming to terms with what had happened to her.  She said that she was receiving counselling but could only get as far as the moment Barry had grabbed her because the memory of the rape itself was still too painful.

She called Barry a predator, “He is not a human or a man. He is a liar, a rapist and a murderer. I beg you not to let him out because he will do it again.”  The woman said that she still felt very insecure whenever anyone came up behind her or touched her back or her neck.

She told gardai that she could not work out why she was still alive, why Barry hadn’t killed her as he would later kill Manuela.  “I am surprised that I am still alive. Why was I let go? Why I am still breathing?”

The woman also criticised media coverage of her ordeal.  She said “It happened to me, not to them” and said that the media did not understand the harm they did to others.  I’ve noticed that line has not been widely reported by my colleagues.  We don’t listen to these details or write them up for some kind of gratuitous entertainment.  The public have the right to know that animals like Barry walk around and do harm to people.  If we gloss over the details of their crimes we absolve them of the full horror of their actions.

Barry is undoubtedly a menace to society.  If people don’t know what he is capable of then they might not see quite how much of a menace he actually is.

Less than two months after he had raped the now 23-year-old woman he was to murder Manuela Riedo.  Then he would also have been visiting an ex girlfriend.  He would also make a pretense that the encounter was consensual, although in Manuela’s case he said this to gardai – we will never know if he aid as much to his victim.

Gardai were still investigating the rape when Manuela took her final walk home.  The rest is tragically known.

Judge Paul Carney has asked whether he has the option of imposing a life sentence, the very highest sentence allowable for the very worst kind of rape.  He will pass his sentence on Friday in Galway.  It remains to be seen just how severe a sentence he hands down.

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Another Week, Another Trial

The courts are back today after their Easter break today.  Court 1 was packed this morning with a jury panel big enough to fill the seven cases listed to start this week.  First weeks back always have full lists – it’s a clean slate with no hang overs from previous weeks so there’s a chance of most of the cases getting started.

I was down to cover Ronald McManus, also known as Ronald or Ronnie Dunbar.  He’s accused of the murder of teenager Melissa Mahon, whose body was recovered from Lough Gill in County Sligo after she had been missing for over 18 months.

As I said, it was a packed courtroom today.  Out of the seven cases listed to start, three of them will go ahead so three juries had to be selected. The potential jurors find seats for themselves anywhere.  The prison officers frequently have to shift unsuspecting members of the general public so that the relevant accused actually has somewhere to sit while the jury that will hear his or case is selected.  It can be a long process.

When you’ve sat through numerous Mondays you get used to the way things work.  You know the exact phrases that will be used by the judge, the common excuses that will be trotted out by those anxious to avoid doing their civic duty.  Those of us who work in the courts aren’t allowed to sit on juries.  Probably wise I suppose.  You do tend to get rather jaundiced when you’ve been there long enough for one trial to start blending into another.

First of all the Registrar will call out twenty or so names from the panel and wait until they manage to fight their way up to the jury box.  Then one by one they are called to take the Bible in their right hand and swear to try the case according to the evidence.  The Prosecution and the Defence both have seven chances to veto a juror without having to give a reason then any number of vetos as long as they have a reason for each one.  Jurors can also ask to be excused and it’s up to the judge’s discretion, usually Mr Justice Paul Carney, whether that’s granted.

Normally if they have holidays booked or important meetings or hospital appointments coming up they will be let go.  The self-employed are off the hook as well as is anyone who has a pivotal role in a small company but it is after all, an employers responsibility to give the workers the paid time off.  This morning, the first jury was selected without a hitch.

The trial of a man accused of the murder of another man in Mountjoy Prison, it’s only expected to take a day or two so there weren’t any issues with time conflicts.  Twelve names were called out of the twenty and each one of them was sworn in.  Once all were sworn they were sent off to a different courtroom for the trial to get underway.

The next jury was for the McManus trial.  Dressed in a black t-shirt with navy blue tracksuit bottoms he came into court clutching a red and blue striped plastic bag.  He’s charged with murdering Melissa Mahon somewhere in Sligo County some time in late September 2006.  He’s also charged with making threats to kill another woman.  He answered not guilty to both charges.

The Registrar called out the first round of names.  Justice Carney warned them they could be stuck in the court for a month.  The excuses started coming thick and fast.

A lot of people were going on holiday in May.  I’m jealous, but then I get paid to sit in court – they don’t (exactly).  Several claimed reduced recessionary workforces as their reason for crying off.  They were let go.  Then came the stockbroker.  He stood up when his name was called, all pin-striped suit and metal-rimmed glasses.  His accent was what my gran used to call “too, too terribly bay window” (posh and I have no idea where the phrase comes from).  He informed the judge the markets were simply too volatile at the moment.  There was no way he could stay away from his duties for the amount of time required.

Judge Paul Carney was not impressed.  He’d heard that excuse before from other stock brokers and hadn’t given into them either he informed the unfortunate broker who could obviously see long weeks of jury duty materialising before his eyes.  He gave it one more go though.  His individual clients would suffer, he told the judge.  If he wasn’t there to manage their money it would go unmanaged.  Nothing doing from the judge though.  The courts only sat for four hours a day he was told.  There were plenty more hours to deal with his clients.

Pin-stripe suit man didn’t win.  Even after he’d sworn himself in he looked as if he was itching to jump up and argue his corner some more.  Every time another self employed person was excused after him his eyebrows twitched and his lips got thinner as he fought a reaction.  He was looking rather pink in the face as the jury took shape and time and again people escaped for work related reasons.

He’ll have tonight to get over it though.  The trial will start tomorrow before Mr Justice Barry White and we’ll all have plenty of time to get familiar with one another over the next few weeks.

Another Sentence Controversy in the Irish Courts…

Yesterday 45-year-old Philip Sullivan learned that the life sentence he had received for the rape and violent sexual assault of two young boys had been over turned.  The Court of Criminal Appeal once again decided to go on the light side when it came to the sentence a convicted sex offender should serve.

Sullivan will now serve 12 1/2 years of a 15 year sentence.  He’ll probably be out sooner than that.  As a prisoner under Irish law he’s entitled to an automatic quarter off his sentence and today he Minister for Justice announced that he would wouldn’t be touching this automatic entitlement any time soon.

In fairness this isn’t all that much sooner than he’d be back on the streets if the life sentence had been left intact.  The average length of jail time for Irish life sentences is about twelve years.  That includes those who received mandatory life sentences for murder.

The subject of minimum sentences has been buzzing around for years and there are arguments on both sides.  Certainly sitting in court on a regular basis and watching the sentences handed down I’ve often heard Judge Paul Carney voice his displeasure of the Court of Criminal Appeal’s tendency to knock down the more punitive sentences to an arguably lenient average.

Take the Sullivan case.  I covered that sentence last year and the story was immediately the fact that a life sentence had been handed down and the speculation about whether it would stick.  This was a particularly nasty case.  Sullivan was in a position of trust as a caretaker to an apartment building.  He was a repeat offender.  The victims were only nine and eleven years old and his crimes were of a particularly nasty type.

The guy is a predatory paedophile who had served time on previous occasions and yet went on to abuse these two boys over a period of over two years.  12 and a half years just doesn’t seem enough.

With the Finn Colclough sentence there was some surprise when the figure turned out to be ten years.  Quite a few of those in the press bench had been speculating a lower figure.  The sentence for manslaughter can be anything from a suspended sentence to life.  It seems to average out at around seven or eight years.  Wayne O’Donoghue served three for the accidental killing of 11-year-old Robert Holohan.

Rape sentences are usually in and around eight years but have notably been a lot less.  Adam Keane hit the headlines in 2007 after his three year suspended sentence for rape was activated and subsequently extended by the Court of Criminal Appeal to seven years after it emerged he had made a triumphalist gesture at his victim as they caught the same train home.

That’s another trial I followed and coincidentally yet another sentence handed down by Mr Justice Paul Carney.  Looking back on the cases I’ve cited here they’re all his sentences.  He’s often quoted as making side swipes at the CCA as he hands down sentence and it’s easy to see why.  He’s the most vocal of the judges who dislike having their sentences more often than not reduced.

I’ve often wondered if some of the more lenient sentences he imposes are there to make a point on the assumption that they’ll end up the standard length on appeal.  The Adam Keane sentence would fall into that category.

But back to the subject of minimum time served.  I noticed another news story this evening while I was checking the rss feeds on my phone.  A judge ruled today that a man who raped and murdered a women should serve at least twenty two years in jail.  As soon as I saw the headline I knew it wasn’t an Irish story.  No matter how bad the crime, here a judge won’t be able to say how much of a life sentence the accused should serve.  Sure enough it was a court in Belfast.

Mandatory minimum sentences do exist under Irish law but only in very specific circumstances.  Murder carries a mandatory life sentence but as I’ve already said that can end up meaning as little as twelve years.  Some drug sentences have mandatory minimums but that’s about it.

Covering rape after rape after rape and seeing traumatised women watch their attacker walk off to serve a sentence that doesn’t usually even hit double digits, it’s hard not to be in favour of minimum sentences.  Rape is considered serious enough to be dealt with by the Central Criminal Court, the highest criminal court in the country.  But the sentences don’t always reflect that.  Of course every case is different but the average sentences for sexual offences in this country tend to be pathetically low.

I’m generally madly here but it’s something that you see again and again.  A man who stole the childhood of his now adult victim gets a pitiful couple of years compared with the lifetime of damage he’s inflicted.  Those who have held a woman against her will, terrorised her, traumatised her get a sentence in single figures once all the mitigating factors are taken into account.  I’ve watched trials that would fit these descriptions and each of them has helped to make up my mind on this one.

The subject of sentencing is always going to be a minefield, once again by virtue of the fact that each case must be judged by it’s own merits but as long as stories keep appearing that this one has been released early or that one had their sentence reduced on appeal it’s going to feel as if an attitude exists that sex crimes are somehow less serious.

I wouldn’t be in favour of mandatory life for any rape conviction but there should be some that deserve the same automatic penalty as murder.  In the meantime these stories will keep cropping up and the perception that you can commit a crime in Ireland and be out in a flash will prevail.

Two Families Devastated…

Finn Colclough was sentenced to ten years in jail today for the killing of Sean Nolan.  As I’ve written about here before, he was convicted back in October of Sean Nolan’s manslaughter after a jury found him not guilty of murder.

It was an emotional sentence.  Both families were out in force, as they had been throughout the trial.  Colclough’s parents sat behind him as he stood to hear his fate and the public benches were full of family and friends on both sides.

After a few bits of end of term, end of year court business the sentence got underway.  The sentence hearing started with a brief summary of the facts, which I’m not going into here.  They’re in the posts leading up to Halloween on this blog.  There was some speculation about what would happen at the sentencing since it was known that the Nolan family were unhappy with the jury’s manslaughter verdict.

Charlotte Nolan, Sean’s mother, got up to give a victim impact statement on behalf of the family.  Dressed in an elegant black dress she sat very straight as she read out the prepared statement.  Although her voice cracked several times, she made it through to the end with no tears, finally having the chance to tell the court about the son she had loved and missed so terribly.

She painted a picture of an enthusiastic young man, intent on following his older brother into the Gardai, who was brave and lively and well liked.  She said he was very clothes conscious, using any available reflection to check on his hair.

In the bedroom the family had felt unable to touch since his death, the price tags from the clothes he had worn to his graduation still lay on the bed.

She spoke about the younger brother, who had asked Santa for his big brother back for Christmas and spoke of the innocence her younger children had lost after their brother’s violent death.

“They now realise that some nightmares are not imagined and don’t end when they open their eyes.”

Colclough’s mother, chef Alix Gardiner, also took the stand in her son’s defence.  She handed Judge Paul Carney the hand-written letter, riddled with spelling mistakes that her son had written to the family of the boy he had killed.

The Nolan family shook their heads and tightened their lips as they heard the expressions of remorse.  Nothing was going to bring their son back to them after all.

We heard again from Dr Paul O’Connell, one of the usual suspects among expert witnesses who give evidence in trials like these.  He’s a consultant psychiatrist with the Central Mental Hospital and usually gives evidence in cases of diminished responsibility.  In this case though he was giving a clinical assessment of Colclough both before and since his conviction.

We heard again about the OCD, diagnosed when Colclough was 9-years-old and treated until shortly before the tragic events of May 26th 2006.  Colclough did not seem to be a violent person, he told the court.  The danger was more of self harm, rather than injuring another.

When he was attacked in Cloverhill Prison, by another inmate who took exception to being told to be quiet while Colclough was on the phone, he made no effort to fight back.

But knowing that Colclough’s actions were atypical is unlikely to be any comfort to the Nolan family who will have to live without their Sean from now on.  Charlotte told the court that next year, instead of preparing for Sean’s 21st birthday they would instead be shopping for a grave stone.

She said, “Sean, my darling, to the world you are a tragic loss.  To us you were the world.”

This was a sad, tragic trial.  The ten year sentence came as quite a surprise but as Judge Carney said when handing down the sentence Colclough’s reaction to the perceived threat from Sean and his friends was so extreme, when he was safe inside his own home with the door locked, that it warranted a higher sentence.

I’ll be going back to Christmas now, leaving the New Year to worry about what to do next, but for the Nolan family and, to be fair, the Colclough’s as well, it will be a bleak Christmas indeed.

Another Monday, Another List

This week started, as do most of my weeks, with the Monday List in Court 1 in the Four Courts.  Everyone squeezes into courtroom to hear what they will be doing for the next week.

Members of the public called for jury duty jostle next to black robed barristers, all trying to hear what’s going on at the front of the room.  Women from Victim Support stand elbow to elbow with members of the prison service.  Members of the press lean forward to catch muffled words along with solicitors, accused men and women and the tipstaffs, there to watch the proceedings for the other judges, all strain to hear as Mr Justice Paul Carney allocates rooms, juries and judges to the cases listed to trial.

Every week the same ritual is played out.  The courtroom is filled to a hot packed crush and the cases for trial are dealt with in quick succession.  In the space of an hour or so all interested parties find out where they will spend their week.  Which courtroom, which trial and which evidence they will spend their days listening to.  It’s not the first time I’ve written about the throng and it won’t be the last.

Standing in the over heated crush, my arms pressed into my sides forcing me to hold my notebook under my chin, the pen held at an awkward angle all you can see are the bodies standing near by.  In the crowd it’s hard to see and hear outside your immediate vicinity.  The room is contracted to a disjointed series of vignettes.

From my habitual spot towards the back of the room, standing up against the radiator my bag stowed on the floor between my feet, I can see the annoyed expression of a woman as her name is called for a jury panel, hear the under breath huff as she pushes her way to the front.

There’s the secret smile as someone ducks their head in passing, their excuse accepted by the judge to allow them to escape jury service until their name comes round again.  The mother turning to wipe a tear away after pulling her son back to plant a kiss on his cheek as he is led away to start his trial another day.  The shaking of heads and laughter from the public when one of the solicitors objects to one more than their quota of dismissible jurors.

On another day when a trial is under way things happen in a well ordered, expected way.  On a Monday morning it feels like organised chaos and there’s a sense that anything can happen.  Tomorrow it’s down to work with the start of the trial of Dane Pearse.  Till then it’s on with the vignettes and the fragments.

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