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Friday 19 September 2014

Man who left bank worker with 'horrific injuries' in unprovoked assault has sentence reduced

Published 21/07/2014 | 17:42

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A Galway man who left a bank worker in a coma for two weeks suffering from “horrific, life-changing injuries” after an unprovoked assault has had his eight-year sentence reduced by 18 months on appeal.

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In November 2011 Dean O’Brien (28) was jailed for eight years by Judge Raymond Groarke after he was found guilty by a Galway Circuit Criminal Court jury of assault causing serious harm to Mr Barry Mannion on William Street West, Galway, on December 28, 2009.

Mr O’Brien, with a last address at Bishop O’Donnell Road in Galway, had pleaded not guilty to counts of assault causing serious harm, assault causing harm and producing an article capable of inflicting serious injury.

There was evidence that O’Brien was driving a car with a number of passengers who had stopped to get takeaway food. O’Brien “very aggressively” revved the car and beeped the horn at a large group of people who were standing around outside the takeaway.

An altercation then took place between the passengers of the car and another man who approached and asked O’Brien and the passengers to relax. O’Brien went to the boot of his car and threw beer bottles at this man.

Mr Mannion, who up to this point had nothing whatsoever to do with the events, then approached in a peace keeping fashion and asked the parties to cool down. O’Brien then immediately landed a punch on Mr Mannion’s jaw sufficient to split his lip and lift him up from the ground, whereupon he fell backwards and suffered “horrific, life-threatening and life-changing” injuries.

O’Brien then got in to his car and drove off, later abandoning it at the entrance to a housing estate and falsely recording it as missing.

The victim was in left in a coma in a life-threatening condition and was later removed to a specialist unit in Beaumont hospital dealing with head injuries. He has a permanent titanium plate in his head as a result of the assault. 

A victim impact report stated that the assault had a profound effect on Mr Mannion’s life, and he has been unable to return to work at a bank.

Counsel for O’Brien, Mr Damien Colgan SC, today said in essence it was submitted that there was “no light left at the end of the tunnel” in the sentence imposed on O’Brien.

He submitted that the error in principle lay in the imposition of an eight-year sentence in circumstances of O’Brien’s young age and his expression of remorse for his actions.

Mr Colgan accepted the assertion by Mr Justice Daniel Herbert that this was a “terrible assault” which, had it “gone a slight bit worse”, could have resulted in the applicant being charged with murder or manslaughter.

He also agreed with presiding judge Mr Justice Liam McKechnie that a report indicated O’Brien was in the high risk category of reoffending within 12 months of release.

Mr Colgan said it was noted by the trial judge that the assault was of a spontaneous nature as it was carried out with no pre-meditation and without a weapon.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr James B Dwyer BL, told the court that the injuries suffered by the victim were very significant and he was in a coma for two weeks. He said the victim has not been in a position to work since.

Mr Dwyer said the trial judge had taken in to the account that this was “an entirely unprovoked assault” and, while O’Brien swung a single punch, it was a “haymaker” or “knockout” punch.

He said reference had been made to Mr Mannion being a “peacemaker” and saying “calm down it’s Christmas” prior to the assault, and there was also no suggestion of O’Brien having taken any alcohol as he was driving on the evening.

Mr Dwyer said his instructions were that this lay at the lower end of the higher band of the range of sentences for this offence.

Returning judgement, presiding judge Mr Justice Liam McKechnie said that in passing sentence Judge Groarke identified various factors and said he had regard to the circumstances of the accused and the offence, which “inevitably must have meant” the starting position for the sentence was higher than eight years.

He said it could be reasonably assumed that the starting point was ten years, which was reduced to eight years to reflect what the trial judge said in his judgement about being anxious to leave some light at the end of the tunnel for Mr O’Brien.

Mr Justice McKechnie said if the starting point was ten years, the court was of the position that this was outside the appropriate band or range of sentencing to reflect the circumstances of the offence.

Having regard to the personal circumstances of the accused and in light of the horrific life-changing injuries suffered by the victim, Mr Justice McKechnie said the court found the starting point for the sentence would be eight years.

Mr Justice McKechnie said the court found the offence warranted a “severe, lengthy custodial sentence” to reflect the court’s “strong disapproval” of this sort of “abhorrent” behaviour and its view that a person who “inflicts this type of violence” is liable for the consequences.

However, Mr Justice McKechnie said the court would suspend the last 18 months of the eight-year sentence. He said O’Brien would be required to engage with the probation services and to abide by any of their directions or requirements for the duration of the suspended portion of the sentence.

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