Tuesday 25 October 2016

Carpenter who fled to Australia after drugs conviction deported back to Ireland after serving sentence over tree arson

Fiona Ferguson

Published 01/06/2016 | 16:22

Stock picture of gardai
Stock picture of gardai

A carpenter who fled to Australia after he was wrongly labelled a “rat” following a drugs conviction has been deported back to Ireland after serving a sentence there for arson of a tree.

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Damien Halpin (29) left Ireland in fear in 2011 when graffiti appeared in his estate and his house was shot at following his initial sentence hearing. He was facing sentence for possession of €17,318 of cocaine. Finalisation of the case had been adjourned to March 2012.

He worked in Australia until he was convicted there in 2015 for arson, assault and being armed with intent in what he described as “a prank gone wrong.” The court heard a row had broken out and a tree that was knocked over went on fire causing substantial damage.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard Halpin served one year in prison in New South Wales and was then deported to Ireland where he was arrested by gardaí at Dublin Airport in January 2016.

He also has 21 previous convictions in Ireland mainly for road traffic and public order offences.

Halpin, with an address at Cushlawn Park, Tallaght, Dublin pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine in Firhouse, Dublin on October 31, 2009.

He also pleaded guilty to assault causing harm at Gibson Hotel, East Wall, Dublin on December 12, 2010. He was on bail for the drugs offence at the time of the assault.

Judge Melanie Greally adjourned sentencing until July 27th next to allow an updated probation report be prepared. The court will hear a full plea in mitigation on Halpin's behalf on that date.

Garda Gavin Cooke agreed with defence counsel, Sarah Jane O'Callaghan BL, that evidence had first been heard in Halpin's case in March 2011 and finalisation was adjourned for a year to give him a chance to prove himself.

He agreed with Ms O'Callaghan that Halpin had not been in a position to give material assistance to the gardaí during the investigation and he had indicated he would be in fear for his life.

The garda agreed with counsel that the “prevailing view” following his sentence hearing had been that he had assisted gardaí. Graffiti had appeared in his estate saying he was a “rat”, his home was shot at and his family were taunted

Gda Cooke said Halpin had not given information to gardaí. “People put two and two together and came up with five,” he told Ms O'Callaghan.

He agreed that Halpin left for Australia where he had been in employment until the arson offence.

Bench warrants were issued for Halpin in March 2012 in Ireland when he failed to appear in court in relation to both cases. He was deported from Australia to face these charges in January 2016 when he finished his sentence there.

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