Thursday 29 June 2017

Gardai beat up robbery hostage, court hears

Tim Healy

A FORMER bread delivery man is suing over injuries he claims he received when gardai used a stun grenade and assaulted him while capturing two armed bank robbers.

The robbers had used Seamus O'Neill's van -- and taken him with them -- in a dramatic escape attempt.

Mr O'Neill (63) has claimed that gardai beat him and handcuffed him when they dragged him from the van, believing him to be one of the robbers.

In a High Court action against both the State and the two robbers, he alleges that gardai used excessive force and failed to heed warnings that he was a hostage, rather than a criminal.

The case against the State is being heard before Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne and a jury.

The case against the robbers, Gareth McKeown, of Mountpleasant, Newry, and Desmond Carroll, High Street, Bessbrook, both Co Down, has been adjourned.

Both have since served jail terms of five and nine years respectively for their roles in the robbery.

The court heard that McKeown and Carroll were part of a three-man gang that attempted to rob the Bank of Ireland in Dunleer, Co Louth, on September 1, 2000, when a firearm may have been discharged.

Their getaway car collided with a truck and while the third man, who was never caught, ran off across a field, McKeown and Carroll hijacked a garda car at gunpoint.

They drove towards Dromin before abandoning it and running off into fields themselves, Eoghan Fitzsimons, for Mr O'Neill, told the court.

Shortly afterwards, Mr O'Neill was delivering bread to an elderly couple's home in Dromin when he was approached by his male customer, who winked at him. At that point, McKeown came out of the house carrying a gun.

He told Mr O'Neill they were taking his van -- and him with it.

They set off with Mr O'Neill sitting on the gearbox in the middle of the van before they came upon a garda checkpoint and drove through it.

There followed a "dramatic and lengthy" chase in which the van collided with a number of cars to get past traffic and a garda roadblock in Slane.

Just outside Slane, a garda car managed to bump the van and spin it around while another vehicle boxed it in to prevent it moving.

Relieved

Mr O'Neill, of Farm Road, Annagassan, Co Louth, told the court that he felt relieved at this point because it was "now in the hands of the gardai".

But then a stun grenade was thrown into the cab and he found himself blinded from the explosion. He said he was dragged from the van, thrown on the ground, hit repeatedly and then handcuffed.

There were two people on top of him and he was only released when a detective arrived who knew him. He told the gardai that he was not a robber.

Mr O'Neill spent seven days in hospital. He had to have shrapnel from the explosion removed from his left arm, which was broken, along with treatment for burns to his chest, right arm and an injury to his left thigh, the court heard.

The court heard that he continued to suffer from those injuries and had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.

He said he had not worked since because of the effect of the injury and stress of the incident.

Subsequently, a garda inspector visited him and when Mr O'Neill said someone had hit him on the day, the officer replied, "Yes, my men hit you."

He was cross-examined by Conor Maguire, who suggested to Mr O'Neill that at no time did any of the gardai hit him. He replied he did not know but "somebody hit me".

Former garda sergeant Brian Duignan, who pulled one of the robbers from the van, said he did not see any need for the stun grenade to be used.

The hearing resumes on Tuesday.

Irish Independent

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