A JUDGE told a former garda who stole thousands of euro from an elderly woman and colleagues that "a meaner crime is difficult to find" as she jailed him for three years.
David Foran (30) targeted the elderly woman after responding to a burglary at her home and found she had hidden nearly €2,000 in her bedroom. He later returned to steal the cash.
He also collected about €3,000 from his garda colleagues to organise events, which he then used to pay his own debts.
Foran, from Kinsale in Co Cork and formerly attached to Fitzgibbon Street station in Dublin's north inner city, gasped and held his head in his hands as sentence was handed down yesterday.
Last night, Foran was taken to the Midlands prison in Portlaoise to begin his three year sentence.
The former garda was placed on a special protection wing, which already houses two ex-prison officers.
The wing is used to hold inmates whose safety is potentially under threat from other prisoners.
Foran had earlier pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to the theft of €1,950 from the woman in Phibsboro between October 10 and 17, 2009.
He also pleaded guilty to stealing money collected from his colleagues at Jury's Hotel, Limerick, all between October and November 2009.
Foran became a garda in 2007 and was at Fitzgibbon Street station when he responded to a burglary at the home of the elderly woman.
Burglars had broken into the sheltered housing where she lived but left without taking anything.
When Foran arrived with a colleague, the woman showed them the pillow cases where she kept her money. She received a pension from An Post, where she had worked all her life, and kept the money at home as she didn't trust banks.
The woman left for Cork the next day for a week, during which time Foran returned. He gained access to the property by telling management he was continuing his investigation and while there, he took the money.
When she discovered the money was missing, the woman phoned gardai, who began an investigation.
The investigating garda then passed the case to Foran, who said he would take care of it. However, he never contacted the woman again.
Suspicions about Foran were raised after the woman wrote a letter of complaint about the lack of a follow-up. Judge Mary Ellen Ring said Foran's breach of trust was more important than the money he stole.
She noted that the garda motto is to protect and serve, but he had done neither for the woman, who was 82 at the time.
"He violated her safety to take money she had worked for 40 years to be entitled to," Judge Ring said.
"This violation took place while he was wearing the garda uniform.
"This undermines the trust elderly people have in gardai. I can only hope that trust can be regained."
She accepted that Foran pleaded guilty, avoiding the need for the elderly woman to give evidence. She also noted his previous good record and his psychiatric problems before suspending the final six months of the sentence.
After hearing the evidence, Judge Ring asked about the well-being of the woman and was told that her health had deteriorated and she believes this is a result of the ordeal. She now lives in a nursing home.
The court also heard how Foran organised a number of collections for social events for his garda colleagues including a Christmas party in Jury's Hotel in Limerick.
Judge Ring said Foran exploited his relationship with his colleagues to take their money so he could alleviate his own problems.
She also noted that he was deeply in debt and that his take-home pay was as low as €25 a week after debt repayments.
However, she pointed out that there was help available for those in debt within the gardai and in wider society and that Foran did not avail of this help.
He collected cash for the Christmas party but used this to pay his debts instead.
When he had to make part-payment to the hotel after the event, he used a credit card number belonging to a colleague along with a forged letter of authorisation on garda- headed notepaper.
Other incidents of theft from colleagues included a collection for a garda who was leaving and a collection for a trip to Liverpool for a football match.
An investigation was begun after the Jury's incident when a colleague noticed the money missing on his credit card.
Foran was arrested as he started his shift on December 3, 2009.
As he sat in the back of the garda car, he confessed to stealing from the elderly woman and blamed his out of control debts for his actions. He was suspended from the force and eventually dismissed.
Defence counsel Ronan Munro BL said: "He has lost his chosen career, his marriage has fallen apart and he has ruined the good name of himself and his family."
Mr Munro said Foran made full admissions in interview and wrote letters of apology to his victims.