Tuesday 20 March 2018

'Is it worth it if you're living in a coffin?' - Garda targeted by 'aggressive' van driver

The Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin
The Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin

Isabel Hayes

A garda who narrowly escaped serious injury after jumping out of the path of a speeding van has described how the fear he felt in the wake of the incident caused him to consider leaving the force.

Cornelius Price (35) of Rockleigh House, Richardstown, Gormanstown, Co Meath, was last week found guilty by a majority jury verdict of one count of endangering a garda at Balbriggan garda station, Co Dublin on January 22, 2014.

Price had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to recklessly engaging in conduct that created a substantial risk of death or serious harm to Garda Gary Dillane.

At the start of the trial, Judge Patricia Ryan issued a warning against contempt of court after the prosecution counsel said an “individual” had been spotted taking photographs of the prosecution legal team and prosecuting gardaí outside the court room.

At Price's sentence hearing on Monday, Sergeant Mark Buckley told Diarmuid Collins BL, prosecuting, that Garda Gary Dillane and Garda Sean Caffrey were in the car park of Balbriggan garda station around 9.30pm on the night in question when they saw two vehicles driving at high speed.

A Hyundai car was being closely pursued by a Ford van and both vehicles were “swerving back and forth”, Sgt Buckley said. “The male driver [of the Hyundai] had a fearful expression on his face and was beeping the horn repeatedly.”

The gardaí recognised Cornelius Price as the driver of the van and said he appeared “aggressive and dangerous”.

As a result, Gda Dillane, who was in full uniform, decided to stop the van. While standing in the car park, he raised his hand and shouted “stop”, however Price “continued to drive straight at him,” Sgt Buckley said.

Gda Dillane jumped out of the path of the van, hurting his leg when he fell. “He would have been struck and seriously injured if he had not jumped out of the way,” Sgt Buckley said.

Price continued to drive on and was pursued by both Gda Dillane and Gda Caffrey, but they were unable to catch him. The driver of the Hyundai was brought to the station for a statement. When he was arrested later, Price said he had not seen the guard.

The court heard Price spent 11-and-a-half months in custody last year on a separate charge of threatening to damage garda property. He was acquitted late last year. Defence barrister, Tony McGillicuddy BL, argued Price should be given credit for the time spent in custody on this matter.

Judge Patricia Ryan adjourned the matter for mention this Thursday, February 23, to allow the prosecution to get advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions on this. Price will be sentenced on Friday, February 24.

In a victim impact statement read out in court by Sgt Buckley, Gda Dillane said he that after the incident, he realised he could have been killed.

He said when he rang his parents to tell them what happened, “My mother started crying and my father said, 'I know you love being a guard, but is it worth it if you're lying in a coffin or you're six feet under?”

Gda Dillane said he considered handing in his resignation before deciding to stay on. But he said he continued to get “flashbacks and chills” when he went to Balbriggan. “This is one of the most terrifying incidents I have ever encountered,” he said.

The court heard Price has 18 previous convictions, including for careless driving, public order offences, assaults and hunting without a licence.

Defence counsel said Price, a father-of-two, was born in Manchester and moved to Ireland at the age of 11. He received little or no education after that. He worked for a period collecting scrap metal but is no longer working.

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