DOING charity and community work has helped save two young men who set fire to a Gatso speed van from going to jail.
Martin Gowan and Darragh Byrne, both aged 20, were before Wexford Circuit Court yesterday (Monday) for sentencing for the offence. While Judge Barry Hickson handed down terms of seven years each, he decided to suspend those sentences in their entirety.
The court heard that Gowan, of Bolaney, Hollyfort, has been working voluntarily for a local primary school and for a firm of undertakers. from Pine Cottage, Kilmurray, has helped raise some €30,000 for charity. TWO YOUNG MEN who set fire to a Gatso speed van while its operator was inside have escaped going to jail, with a Circuit Court judge telling them they are 'very lucky' they still have their freedom.
Before the court yesterday (Monday) were Martin Gowan ( 20), of Bolaney, Hollyfort, Gorey, and Darragh Byrne (20), of Pine Cottage, Kilmurray, Gorey, who had both pleaded guilty at an earlier court to setting the van alight outside Gorey on March 13 last year. They avoided prison after the court heard they have since carried out extensive voluntary work in the community, and are unlikely to re-offend.
Sergeant Ray Heffernan told the court how the van was parked near Gorey on the date in question, with its operator, John McDonald, sitting inside. He got the smell of burning and managed to exit the van unharmed before it was destroyed by flames.
Passing motorists saw what was happening, and informed the Gardai. They also provided descriptions of suspects seen nearby, and the defendants were later arrested and made full admissions of their involvement. Another person was also involved, but he is not before the court, Sgt Heffernan reported. He also told the court that neither Gowan nor Byrne had come to the attention of Gardai for any other reason in the meantime.
Defence Counsel, Aidan Doyle SC, said there was a favourable Probation and Welfare Report before the court in respect of Gowan. The defendant, he said, had a difficult upbringing as both his parents had died when he was a young boy. He was brought up by his elderly uncle, who had died since the last hearing in court, and his (defendant's) sister.
According to Mr. Doyle, Gowan had spent the entire summer doing a significant amount of work on the primary school in his area and had continued that work on a voluntary basis at weekends since the school had reopened. He also undertook voluntary work on two to three days per week with a funeral undertaker in Gorey. The Probation Officer, he said, was impressed with Mr Gowan and the fact that he had co-operated fully.
In respect of Darragh Byrne, Mr. Doyle said it should be recalled that he had 'a significant issue' with depression despite his young age. The court had also heard from Garda McCarthy previously that he was unlikely to reoffend. Since his last appearance in court he had been involved in community work, and has raised roughly €30,000 for charity. He also had got himself considerably involved in voluntary work.
In passing sentence, Judge Teehan said that when news of this particular act broke, it not alone shocked the people of County Wexford but people over a very wide area. The reaction of the people was one of shock and horror but very fortunately Mr. McDonald had escaped without injury, but nevertheless he was left shocked which will have a lasting impression.
While he was satisfied there was genuine remorse and both had apologised and also the fact that these young men are unlikely to re-offend, he would have to impose a custodial sentence. He imposed a sentence of seven years in prison but said would suspend the seven years for seven years on condition that both defendants enter a bond of €100 each to keep the peace for that time.
'You can consider yourselves very lucky. Your liberty for seven years is now in your own hands,' Judge Teehan told the defendants.