A 21-year-old woman who threw a bottle at a nightclub and left a woman scarred for life has been sentenced to two years in prison, with the last year suspended.
Harriet Higgins, of 47 Orchard Drive, Donegal town, appeared before Donegal Circuit Court yesterday for sentencing, having previously pleaded guilty to committing a Section 3 assault causing harm at Dom’s Nightclub on May 30, 2010. She was only 19 at the time of the attack.
A charity event was being held to thank people who had raised funds for Haiti in the wake of the earthquake there. One of the organisers, Martina O’Donnell, who was 32 a the time, was hit in the face by the bottle. The broken glass cause two lacerations to her face. One, measuring 4cm, extended from her jaw to her lip. Surgeons told her that the scar would be visible for life “no matter what we do”.
Ms O’Donnell told the court the attack had left her “very paranoid and nervous all the time”. She added: “I don’t like being in crowds.”
She was able to identify her attacker, the court heard. Garda Alan Gallagher said when he called to Ms Higgins’ home the next day, she immediately admitted responsibility. She said: “I didn’t mean to. I feel really bad about it. I can’t go to jail for this. I had drink taken.”
While being interviewed, Garda Gallagher said, Higgins also admitted “throwing a glass at a group of girls as she thought they were laughing at her. She claimed that she became paranoid and it wasn’t a personal attack.”
Ms Higgins read out an apology in which she said she had no recollection of the incident because she was drunk. She said “I am horrified that I was capable of such a thing and I am taking steps to make sure that this type of thing will not happen again. I would like to say that I am so very, very sorry for hurting you.”
The court heard that she has a number of previous convictions, mainly for public order offences such as being drunk in public and offensive conduct. The 21-year-old had received a total of four previous prison sentences of three months each and she was out on temporary release from prison when this incident took place. After promising to return to her place of detention voluntarily, she left the country.
Judge John O’Hagan said the nature of the attack and the previous convictions were aggravating factors, as was the fact that she had previously absconded.
However, he added, there were a number of mitigating factors, such as the fact that Ms Higgins had admitted responsibility straight away, had not come to the attention of gardai since the attack, had shown genuine remorse and apologised, was actively engaging with the Probation Service to deal with her addiction issues and had received a very positive report from the Probation Officer. He also acknowledged her “difficult past” and said she was a “young lady who never stood a chance”.
He said that if the case had gone to trial and she had been convicted by a jury, he would have sentenced her to 3-4 years.
Judge O’Hagan concluded: “I believe that a custodial sentence is absolutely necessary in this case. I have to send out a message to young people that you can’t behave like this and get away with it.” He sentenced her to two years in prison, suspending the last twelve months.