Judge reveals outcry over robbery sentencing

A judge received angry letters from members of the public after he decided not to jail a man for his part in a series of armed robberies in West Donegal

A judge received angry letters from members of the public after he decided not to jail a man for his part in a series of armed robberies in West Donegal

Judge John O’Hagan told Letterkenny Circuit Court how his decision to give Tadgh Kelvey 240 hours community service in lieu of a 12-month sentence provoked an outcry.

Speaking at the sentencing of a second member of the gang Judge O’Hagan said: “There were letters written to me personally expressing their displeasure at the attitude I had taken to Tadgh McKelvey,” he said.

“I can understand how people in society feel offended at how certain people are treated by the courts. But everyone has to be treated individually,” he said.

The judge was speaking at the sentencing of Paul McEleney who had pleaded guilty to four charges connected to the robberies and attempted robberies in February 2008. McEleney (21), of Middle Dore, Bunbeg, pleaded guilty to his aprt in an attempted armed robbery at Gallagher’s Topaz Service station in Derrybeg on February 7th, 2009, armed robbery at McDevitt’s Service Station in Dungloe on February 13th and an armed robbery at the Templecrone Co-op in Annagry on February 26th.

The court heard the first incident involved a masked member of the gang approaching a teenage petrol pump attendant and his friend with a knife. The man escaped empty-handed in a car in which McEleney was waiting. McEleney had worked at Gallagher’s Topaz Service station in Derrybeg where the incident occurred for five years.

In the second incident two masked men, one of them armed with a knife and a handgun, approached a teenage pump attendant at McDevitt’s service station in Dungloe. McEleney was not armed but took the tray from the till which contained €334.

The most serious of the incidents involved a robbery at the Templecrone Co-op in Annagry. Two young female staff members were in the store when the robbery took place. The incident involved one masked man armed with a double-barrelled shotgun entering the premises. A total of €5,197 was stolen from the shop. Paul McEleney was waiting outside and took the weapon from his accomplice.

Victim impact statements from the two young shop attendants revealed that they were afraid to work night shifts and had suffered stress as a result of their experiences.

The court heard McEleney had full knowledge of all the incidents.

McEleney was arrested on Mrach 1st and admitted his part in the robberies during the interviews with gardaí.

The court heard McEleney had suffered from alcohol addiction and the abuse of drugs, including cocaine, but with the support of his parents he has made strides in turning his life around and has not been in trouble since.

Addiction counsellor Cormac Scully said McEleney had shown a huge improvement and a custodial sentence “would be guaranteed to be a disaster”.

Taking the stand McEleney apologised to the victims of the crimes and to his parents.

Judge O’Hagan said the crimes involved two 19-year-old men who were out of control. But he said he believed McEleney had expressed genuine remorse and said sending him to prison would achieve “absolutely nothing” except public satisfaction.

The judge handed down three four-years sentences and one five-year sentence, all to be served concurrently. The sentences were suspended for a period of five years.