Thursday 19 July 2018

Men who stole €27K camper van 'at crossroads' and must decide between rehabilitation or jail, judge says

The case was brought before the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court
The case was brought before the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court

Jessica Magee

Two men who stole a camper van worth €27,000 have avoided prison after a judge said they were “at a crossroads” and must decide whether to rehabilitate or face jail.

Darren Watters (21), of Killegland Pk, Ashbourne, Co Meath and Michael Joyce (28), Millbanks, Cushionstown, Tara, Co Meath, both pleaded guilty to stealing the Adria van on June 13, 2016.

At their sentence hearing in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court yesterday, Judge Karen O'Connor gave both men suspended sentences but urged them to learn from their mistakes and move on, or else be incarcerated in the future.

She sentenced Joyce to two-and-a-half years in prison but suspended it fully, and gave Watters a two-year suspended sentence for this and a separate offence involving the use of a stolen car.

Garda Mark Murphy told Noel Devitt SC, prosecuting, that the pair were spotted by a witness trying to gain access to the camper van which was parked on St Brigid's Rd Lower in Dublin 9.

Gardaí were alerted and drove towards the area, coming face-to-face with an Avensis car driven by Michael Joyce which was towing the camper van, steered by Darren Watters.

The car stopped, whereupon the camper van crashed into the back of it and Watters got out and fled the scene.

He was caught and arrested by gardaí within 150 metres. Joyce was also arrested.

The van was recovered and returned undamaged to its owners.

Joyce has 17 previous convictions, 13 of which are road traffic offences and a further three under the Theft and Fraud Offences Act.

Oisín Clarke BL, defending Joyce, said he had a very limited education and had left secondary school after two weeks.

Mr Clarke said his client worked for a mechanic part-time, had four children and had been married since he was 18.

He presented a letter to court from Topline Motors offering full-time work to Joyce should the courts decide in his favour.

The court heard that “alcohol was Joyce's only vice” until his father died and he began taking a variety of drugs including cocaine, but that he stopped using drugs three months ago.

Counsel for Joyce said he was living with his mother in her mobile home, which was adjacent to his wife's mobile home, but that he did not want to go back to living with his wife and children until he was satisfied that he was totally clean.

A letter from a soup kitchen was also shown to the court, where Joyce volunteers once a week, having been helped by the kitchen in the past.

The court heard that Joyce brought €500 to court as a gesture of his remorse to be given either to the camper van owners or to a charity.

“He made a stupid decision and saw an opportunity to make some quick money, but he accepts his culpability and is trying to get his life back on track,” Mr Clarke said.

Evidence was also heard of a separate offence involving Watters (21), when he was caught in a stolen car.

Watters had previously pleaded guilty to the unlawful use of a vehicle on February 2, 2016 at Steeplechase Court, Ratoath, Co Dublin. He further admitted using four false instruments, namely a counterfeit NCT disc, motor tax disc, NCT certificate and vehicle registration certificate.

Detective Garda Seamus Wallace told the court that a woman and her husband living in Artane reported that their car had been stolen on January 30 that year.

Just over a fortnight later, a garda checking up on stolen vehicles noticed an Opel Astra parked up in Ratoath with brand new registration plates and the marks of previous plates on the car.

He checked the chassis number and found that it was the same car that had been stolen in Artane.

Gardaí saw Watters pulling up in another car, getting into the Astra and placing something in the visor pockets, which turned out to be the false car documents.

Watters was wearing black gloves, which he tried to take off just before he was arrested.

He told gardaí, “If I didn't do it, I was going to get a beating,” and accepted that he had been wearing gloves to prevent his fingerprints getting on anything.

Watters has four previous convictions.

His counsel, Justin McQuade BL, told the court that Watters came from a hard-working, respectable, loving, stable and supportive family, but that he had fallen in with the wrong peer group.

A probation report identified Watters as “at moderate risk” of re-offending.

His mother took the stand and told the judge her son had taken it very hard at the age of 13 when his grandmother died and an uncle died by suicide.

“He was young and naïve and got in with the wrong crowd. We're quite happy that he was caught and are very grateful to the guards who nipped this in the bud,” said Mrs Watters.

Judge Karen O'Connor said Watters had been “caught red-handed” and described him as “person of advantage, unlike most of the people who come before this court”.

“Despite his parents' great efforts to keep him on a positive path, they have limited control,” said Judge O'Connor and warned Watters that he must stay on the right path from now on.

“The closing of that prison door will be deeply upsetting to your family,” she said.

Both Joyce and Watters were ordered to keep the peace for the duration of their sentences, complete victim focus work, engage with probation services for 12 months and comply with all direction from relevant professionals.

The case was adjourned for mention on Friday October 13 in order to decide where Joyce's offer of €500 will go.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News