Friday 15 December 2017

Man (56) found not guilty by reason of insanity after pointing imitation gun at gardaí

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Conor Gallagher

A mentally ill man was pepper-sprayed twice with no effect after pointing a realistic looking imitation gun at gardaí, a court has heard.

Colm Lawless (56) was found not guilty by reason of insanity after the jury heard he could not control his actions or understand the difference between right and wrong at the time as he was suffering from bi-polar disorder.

Mr Lawless of Glenmuch Road, Dublin 18 pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to threatening Garda Gary Farrell and possession of an imitation firearm at John of Gods, Sandyford.

The jury were instructed by Judge Sarah Berkeley and counsel for the prosecution and defence that all the evidence pointed towards a “special” verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Two forensic psychologists gave evidence that Mr Lawless was suffering from delusions and was insane at the time under the Criminal Law Insanity Act 2006. All the facts of the case were admitted by Mr Lawless.

Jurors took 46 minutes to return the verdict. Mr Lawless will now be sent to the Central Mental Hospital for a 14 day assessment after the court was told a bed was available. A doctor will report back to the court on February 22 on a treatment plan for him.

In interview Mr Lawless said he suffered from severe delusions at the time of the offence as he was going through a “manic” phase having suffered from bi-polar disorder for many years.

He had stopped taking his medication at the time against the advice of doctors because it was giving him panic attacks. This led to the delusions that he was head of the “Jerusalem secret service” and that he was on a mission from God to save the world.

He had written letters to the Archbishop and members of government stating this and had hand delivered them. On the day of the incident he believed that the garda whistle-blower Sergeant Maurice McCabe was going to be assassinated and that he had to save him.

Prosecuting counsel Tony McGillicuddy BL presented evidence that staff at the hospital where Mr Lawless attended had informed gardaí that he was off his medication and shouldn't be driving.

Garda Gary Farrell and his partner found Mr Lawless sitting in his car outside the hospital. Gda Farrell knew about his condition and decided the best course of action was to take the keys from the ignition for Mr Lawless' safety.

When he did this Mr Lawless took a black air pistol from the glove box. A ballistics expert gave evidence that this was not a firearm under the law but that it closely resembled a Beretta handgun and could be mistaken for one.

Mr Lawless got out of the car and pointed the gun at the officer and at his partner who was in the patrol car.

Gda Farrell drew his baton and told him to drop the gun. When Mr Lawless refused Gda Farrell pepper-sprayed him but it had no effect. He pepper-sprayed him again which also did nothing.

Mr Lawless went into the middle of the yard and threatened to shoot himself if the garda didn't return his keys. Gda Farrell threw the keys towards Mr Lawless who dropped the gun. He was arrested and taken to hospital.

Mr Lawless was interviewed several weeks later having recovered from the episode. He made admissions and said he had bought the gun in a fishing store six months before as a “curiosity item”.

He said during the incident he believed the gardaí would back down because he outranked them as head of the secret service. He praised Gda Farrell for bringing him to the hospital and apologised to the officers.

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