Tuesday 25 September 2018

Eight years in jail for man involved in tiger kidnapping of All Ireland hurling champion

Aoife Nic Ardghail and Conor Gallagher

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

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

Speaking outside the court today, Mr Ronan said he and his family accepted the sentence and hoped to move 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 told reporters.

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

When passing sentence Judge Desmond Hogan commented that though he was dealing with an attempted robbery, the offence was part of a tiger kidnapping.

The judge 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.

Judge Hogan said written statements from the Ronan family as “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 is 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.

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

Detective Inspector Michael Hennebry said Freeman was the only person to be prosecuted for the raid though many were arrested.

He revealed 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 €3 million.”

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.

The raiders gave Mr Ronan, who worked in the Bank of Ireland finance sector, a mobile phone and showed him a phone scanner to warn him off contacting gardai.

Mr Ronan received a number of phone calls over the morning about getting money.

The final phone call never came and a short time later gardai rang him to say his wife had been located unharmed.

Gardaí arrested Freeman and interviewed him 29 times before he made admissions. He said he was informed he would be dropping something from one place to another.

Feargal Kavanagh SC, defending, said Freeman had run up large gambling debts and the raiders had promised to have them written off if he helped them.        

Freeman wept as he sat in court listening to Mr Ronan describe the hostage situation as “hell on earth.”

The victim said he wondered how he would 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. He said 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 feel unsafe in their home and are reminded of that night every time they lock up and check the alarm 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,” he said. “All of this just to rob the Bank of Ireland in Kilkenny.”

Mr Ronan said he has suffered from sleep and heart issues and his children have suffered in school. He paid tribute to his “remarkable wife” who he said would get his vote for the mother of the year award.

The victim impact report of his wife, Mary Ronan, was read into the record by counsel. She detailed how she was held hostage for eight hours while not knowing of what “torture” her children might be going through.

After some hours in the weather station she said her kidnapper took out a gun and fired above her head. “I thought the next shot would be for me,” she wrote

Mrs Ronan wrote that she later thought she could have said two million Hail Marys in that time.

“Those masked and armed raiders stole our children’s safety and freedom within our own home and outside,” she added.

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