Thursday 8 December 2016

Carpenter who fled to Australia after he was wrongly labelled a 'rat' following drugs conviction is jailed

Fiona Ferguson

Published 27/07/2016 | 15:18

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A carpenter who fled to Australia after he was wrongly labelled a “rat” following a drugs conviction has been sentenced to six years.

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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.

Halpin, with an address at Cushlawn Park, Tallaght, Dublin pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court 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.

Halpin 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 Christmas 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.

Judge Melanie Greally had adjourned sentencing having heard evidence last month and ordered a probation report.

She said today that the assault was a serious one, during which Halpin had glassed the victim in the face.

The judge accepted that Halpin made admissions in relation to the drugs, that he didn't gain financially and had a chaotic lifestyle at the time.

Judge Greally accepted that Halpin had since taken “a very positive pro-active attitude towards his time in custody”, was a model prisoner and was also making a positive contribution to the lives of other prisoners.

She said, however, that Halpin, had taken “so long to face up to the consequences of the offences” before she imposed consecutive sentences totalling six years. She suspended the final two years on strict conditions.

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.

Ms O'Callaghan told Judge Greally that in relation to the drug offence, Halpin was acting under instruction, and was “not by any means at the top of the ladder”. She said he got in over his head because of a drug debt arising out of his addiction.

Counsel said the assault was not pre-meditated and her client wrongly believed that the victim was chatting up his girlfriend. “He behaved irrationally and has demonstrated genuine remorse for his actions,” Ms O'Callaghan said.

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