Saturday 20 October 2018

Violent burglar who hacked several people, including child (11), with machete loses appeal against sentence

The Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal

Ruaidhrí Giblin

A violent burglar who broke into a caravan in the middle of the night and "hacked" several people, including an 11-year-old child, with a machete, has lost an appeal against the severity of his 15-year prison sentence.

Michael Maughan (24), with an address at The Campsite, Moneen, Castlebar, Co Mayo pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary at the caravan of Martin and Winnie McDonagh on the Turlough Road, Castlebar on November 18, 2013.

He was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment at Castlebar Circuit Criminal Court by Judge Rory McCabe on February 19, 2016.

The Court of Appeal upheld Maughan's sentence today in a case involving photographs of injuries “almost too awful to look at”.

Giving judgment in the three-judge court, Mr Justice George Birmingham said the injured parties were asleep in their home, a caravan, at 1am on the date in question. The occupants were Martin McDonagh, his wife Winnie McDonagh and their two sons aged 18 and 11 as well as their 18-year-old son's girlfriend.

Mr Justice Birmingham said Maughan, along with another man, entered the caravan wearing balaclavas and attacked the occupants. Armed with a machete, Maughan “attacked and slashed” the two sons multiple times leaving them with multiple lacerations.

He said it was worth repeating that the youngest son was aged 11 and the photos of injuries sustained “it has to be said, are almost too awful to look at”.

Mr Justice Birmingham said that during the attack, Martin McDonagh fled but was chased by Maughan who slashed at him. During this encounter, Maughan's balaclava slipped and he was recognised.

Maughan was born in Yorkshire and had moved to Ireland as a young child. He had seven previous convictions including one for section 3 assault, one for section 2 assault, one for possession of a knife, one theft, one section 6 public order, one section 3 misuse of drugs and one for allowing himself be carried unlawfully in a car.

Maughan's barrister, Des Dockery SC, submitted that the case was at a high level but not at the highest.

While this case was serious, Mr Dockery said the notorious Tipperary aggravated burglary case from 2013 was “even more severe” and there were a number of aspects present in that case which weren't present here.

That case, known as 'Dean Byrne and Others', the court heard, was referred to by the sentencing judge as it had come before his colleague in Clonmel Circuit Criminal Court shortly beforehand.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Patrick Reynolds BL, said it was “just plainly wrong” to say the Tipperary case was much more serious than this aggravated burglary.

Mr Reynolds said the sentencing judge in the Tipperary case commented that that case “shocked a nation”.

“This case didn't shock a nation. It didn't get much publicity. I'm not going to put forward why I think that is, but it's a fact”.

Mr Reynolds said he couldn't imagine a more serious aggravated burglary than what happened here - “where you're lying in bed and someone comes in and hacks you with a machete”. The only thing that could have made this case more serious was if one of the victims died, he added.

He said the defence were trying to have it both ways, referring to the attack as occurring in the context of a feud when it suited them and then also referring to Maughan's use of drugs and his level of culpability.

Mr Reynolds said the death of Maughan's brother in the context of a feud had been put forward as some sort of catalyst for going “off the rails” but his brother was killed in December 2013 – after the aggravated burglary was committed.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the Court of Appeal, which dealt with the Tipperary aggravated burglary case in May of this year, “would simply observe that both cases” were at the highest level of seriousness for aggravated burglary.

He said it was to be noted that Maughan was sentenced in respect of four bills of indictment on the same occasion - for two violent disorders and one robbery that were committed subsequent in time to the caravan attack. Judge McCabe imposed concurrent sentences made consecutive to the aggravated burglary sentence but suspended them in their entirety for a number of years.

The court heard that Judge McCabe may have wished to structure the sentences in that way so as not to “dilute the message” he wished to send out in respect of the aggravated burglary offence. In sentencing an offender on multiple bills of indictment, a judge must have regard to principles of totality and proportionality.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the sentencing judge might have chosen to structure the sentences differently. However, having imposed wholly suspended sentences for the violent disorders and robbery, the focus had to be on the appropriateness of the sentence imposed for the aggravated burglary.

In the Court of Appeal's view, the sentence of 15 years, viewed in isolation, was a severe one. However, it was such a serious offence, it had to be met with a very significant sentence.

Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Edwards, said the sentence imposed fell within the range available to the Circuit Court judge and no error in principle had been identified. The appeal was therefore dismissed.

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