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Tuesday 24 October 2017

Too many random street assaults going unpunished

Emer Connolly

'SHE was simply the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time." Those were the words of Senior Counsel Brendan Grehan, in the Central Criminal Court last week, at the sentencing hearing of a young man for the aggravated sexual assault of a woman.

Mr Grehan was speaking on behalf of his client Brian Maher, who was in court arising out of an incident in Bohermore, Galway City, on October 16, 2010, in which he grabbed his victim, pulled her into an alleyway and attacked her.

Maher (25), of Clostoken, Loughrea, Co Galway, also admitted assault causing harm to the woman, who is now aged 38.

His distraught victim told the court, "I will never forgive Brian Maher for hurting me and for causing my family so much pain and anguish."

She was a "ghost" of her former self, as a result of what she described as a "savage" assault. "I've become a person I don't know any more. My life has changed forever," she said.

No sentence handed down to her attacker would ever return her to the "happy independent" woman she once was.

This was a random attack. She was most unfortunate to have encountered Maher. She was, in reality, in the wrong place at the wrong time, and there was no question that she was "targeted", said Mr Grehan.

Tragically, the same words ring true for a huge amount of abhorrent crimes committed every day. More often than not, perpetrators cannot come up with reasonable explanations for unprovoked, random attacks and all too often the defenceless victims are not known to them.

Another man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time was Brian Casey. The 26-year-old schoolteacher was attacked on a street in Ennis, Co Clare, on St Stephen's night in 2009.

He looked on as some of his friends got involved in a row with a group of other men. As he watched, with his hands in his pockets, he was attacked. He fell to the ground and later died from his injuries in hospital.

The garda investigation into his death concluded that Brian Casey was a mere bystander and did not play any role in the scuffle.

Two men, Harry and Kevin Dinan, were later jailed for five and four years respectively for the manslaughter of Mr Casey. At the Court of Criminal Appeal last week, their sentences were increased by two years each, after the DPP lodged an appeal on the grounds that the terms imposed in the circuit court were unduly lenient.

Harry Dinan (31), of Waterpark Heights, Ennis, and Kevin Dinan (24), of Clarehill, Clarecastle, had several previous convictions.

Harry Dinan -- who had 64 previous convictions -- was on temporary release at the time. Kevin Dinan -- 17 previous convictions -- was on bail at the time of the attack on Mr Casey, having pleaded guilty to burglary and handling stolen property, in the circuit court, five months earlier.

At the sentencing hearing of the Dinans, Brian Casey's heartbroken sister Martina said, "We are angry that something so devastating could happen without any reason and we simply cannot understand why. Brian did nothing wrong, was simply a bystander and was attacked without provocation or reason."

Chillingly, it is not difficult to relate to these two cases, given that both were chance encounters; unfortunately for the victims who were ordinary, decent people.

These two cases are not unique as dozens like them go through the courts every week. People's lives are touched, virtually on a daily basis, due to random acts of violence. But it is only when the crime hits the upper end of the scale that it has such a profound impact.

There was no history of bad blood in either case and neither victim invited trouble. Brian Maher's victim was on her way home that night, having enjoyed an evening socialising with her fiancee and some friends. Brian Casey was enjoying Christmas celebrations with his girlfriend Cecelia and a group of friends.

Whatever the reasons behind random attacks on unfortunate people in the wrong place at the wrong time, the consequences for those left behind are dreadful. The outcome is irreversible. Lives are changed, often due to a moment of madness that is nigh impossible to explain.

Thankfully in these two cases, those responsible have been apprehended. For countless others, the perpetrators are never caught; and sadly their pursuit of justice is never finalised.

Sunday Independent

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