Trusted dad's crime spree aged 62 'possibly linked to old brain injury'
Serial offender's 52 convictions in just three years are "possibly" linked to old brain injury
A trusted family man who was never in trouble in his life embarked on a crime spree across the country at the age of 62, possibly because of a brain injury he suffered 25 years before.
James McMulkin, now 66, racked up 52 convictions in three years for stealing power tools and equipment, north and south of the Border.
His late conversion to crime was linked to a head injury caused by an iron rod that plunged through his skull in 1989. A psychiatrist said it was "strongly possible" he suffers from frontal lobe syndrome, a brain disorder that can cause personality changes and impair thinking.
The curious case of McMulkin was outlined in a Court of Criminal Appeal judgment by Mr Justice John Edwards delivered on November 10 but published last Friday.
He dismissed an appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions that the two-year suspended sentence for theft he handed down in Carlow Circuit Criminal Court earlier this year was too lenient.
The ruling outlines what the sentencing judge called McMulkin's "sudden" transformation from "trusted member of society, a trusted father, a trusted husband" to "a thief and a fraudster".
McMulkin, who lived in Kildare with his wife and two daughters, worked for more than 30 years as a digger driver and had an "impressive" employment history with several well-known contractors. He rose to the rank of foreman, was trusted and well regarded by his employers, and worked on various motorway and road construction projects.
In 1989, he suffered a "devastating accident" when an iron bar fell from a height, went through his left eye and went out the back of his skull.
McMulkin was fitted with a prosthetic eye and was treated at the National Rehabilitation Hospital over several months for his head injury. He never returned to his former work, and was forced to retire in 2010.
Two years later, "all of a sudden", he began a string of offences that continued over three years. McMulkin later claimed a Romanian called Joe put him up to it, asking: "Would you do a few jobs?" He agreed.
His modus operandi was the same in every case. He targeted hardware shops to 'buy' power tools and equipment using credit card details. While the cardholders were reimbursed, the retailers carried the loss.
McMulkin - who once parked his car in front of a CCTV camera - was apprehended. He pleaded guilty to 52 offences in Northern Ireland in 2014, and served nine months in jail. On his release he reoffended and pleaded guilty to theft at Carlow Circuit Criminal Court in a case that was heard last year.
Prior to his sentencing, McMulkin was examined by a psychiatrist who noted how during the consultation he popped his prosthetic eye "in and out... with some inappropriate mirth".
He noted personality characteristics such as his "altered emotional behaviour", "unwarranted cheerfulness" and his "expression of needs and impulses without consideration of consequences".
In his report to the judge, he said there was a "strong possibility" that McMulkin suffered from frontal lobe syndrome and recommended further investigation of the consequences of his head injury in 1989.
His GP, however, portrayed McMulkin as a man "on the brink of suicide", who was having difficulty dealing with day-to-day things in his life.
Although his two adult daughters ostracised him, the sentencing judge heard "heart-rending" evidence from his wife, who was in a nursing home and needed him. He had been "a trusted member of society, a trusted father, a trusted husband and then he turns into a thief and a fraudster".
The sentencing judge gave him the "benefit of the doubt" with a suspended two-year sentence. On Friday, Mr Justice Edwards ruled the sentence was not unduly lenient.