Sunday 28 December 2014

Tiger kidnap was hell on Earth, but we won't let ordeal destroy our family, says ex-hurling star

Do you want your kids to be without a mother? Ronan told

Aoife Nic Ardghail and Conor Gallagher

Published 29/07/2014 | 02:30

Adrian Ronan leaving  court yesterday with his wife Mary
Adrian Ronan leaving court yesterday with his wife Mary
Stephen Freeman (27), of Ballcurris Gardens, Ballymun, at court yesterday where he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempting to steal cash, with others, from Bank of Ireland Parliament Street, Kilkenny in November, 2009.
Adrian Ronan in action during his hurling days

A MAN who was involved in the tiger kidnapping of Kilkenny All-Ireland hurling champion Adrian Ronan and his family has been jailed for eight years.

Stephen Freeman's role was to pick up and transport money after the raid, but he couldn't drive, so he got a taxi driver he knew through gambling to do the job. The case against Freeman (27) was largely based on him admitting his involvement to this taxi driver.

Freeman, of Ballcurris Gardens, Ballymun, Dublin, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to attempted robbery with others of Bank of Ireland, Parliament Street, Kilkenny, on Tuesday November 3, 2009.

Freeman – who has seven previous convictions at District Court level – admitted using force on Adrian and Mary Ronan and their family to frighten them.

In his victim impact statement earlier this month, Mr Ronan described the ordeal as "hell on Earth".

Speaking outside the court, Mr Ronan said he and his family accepted the sentence and hoped to get on with their lives.

"We believe that when something bad or horrific or traumatic like this happens, you've three choices. You can either let it define you, you can let it destroy you or you can let it strengthen you. We believe this will strengthen us," Mr Ronan said.

He thanked his legal team, the gardai, local community, work colleagues and friends and family for their support.

Passing sentence, Judge Desmond Hogan described tiger kidnappings as "universally regarded with public opprobrium" and said Freeman was acting in common design.

He noted that the father of one was "enthusiastic" to get involved as he had somebody else do the driving when he couldn't fulfil this role.

The judge said written statements from the Ronan family made "harrowing reading".

"I must say that listening to Mr Ronan and the effects it has had on him and his family has left me with nothing but extreme disgust," the judge said.

He noted the family were still suffering from the effects of the "horrific, abominable crime".

He said he hoped the outcome of this case would bring the family some closure. The judge took into account Freeman's age at the time of the offence and his guilty plea.

He imposed a 10-year sentence with the final two suspended. He ordered that Freeman undergo any gambling addiction courses deemed appropriate.

During the sentence hearing the court had heard from Detective Inspector Michael Hennebry, who said Freeman was the only person to be prosecuted for the raid, though many had been arrested.

The Ronans woke up at 5am to find three masked men in their bedroom. The raiders cable-tied Mr Ronan's hands and told him: "You're going to do a job for us. We're taking your wife and you're going to get us €3m."

They asked Mr Ronan: "Do you want your kids to be without a mother for Christmas?"

They drove Mrs Ronan to a disused weather station outside Kilkenny, where she was tied to a swivel chair at gun point for eight hours.

They gave Mr Ronan, a Bank of Ireland employee, a phone and ordered him to get them money. The final phone call never came and a short time later gardai rang him to say his wife had been located unharmed.

Gardai arrested Freeman and interviewed him 29 times before he made admissions. Earlier this month Freeman wept as he sat in court listening to Mr Ronan describe the hostage situation as "hell on Earth".

Bullet

The victim said he wondered how he would cope if his wife was murdered and detailed how the armed men told him his wife "would get a bullet" and asked him if he wanted to lose his wife for Christmas.

He said he and his family continued to suffer the effects for long afterwards. The family slept in the single room for 12 months after the raid and their home became "a crime scene".

Mr Ronan said that the family still felt unsafe in their home and were reminded of that night every time they locked up at night.

"Every strange car that passes our house becomes a suspect," he continued. "Little things like hearing a Dublin accent causes anxiety.

"The raiders stole our happiness, our dreams and our future. All of this just to rob the Bank of Ireland in Kilkenny."

He also paid tribute to his "remarkable wife", who he said would get his vote for the mother of the year award.

Irish Independent

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