Sunday 24 March 2019

Former garda led gardai on dangerous high-speed chase

Kiltealy man facing 13 counts of dangerous driving across North Wexford following lengthy two-day court sitting

Charges of drink driving and cannabis possession are dismissed by judge

Defending solicitor calls into question injuries sustained by defendant when he was arrested in a field by pursuing gardai

Gardaí were led on a high-speed chase reaching speeds of up to 140km/h in the Bunclody area
Gardaí were led on a high-speed chase reaching speeds of up to 140km/h in the Bunclody area

A former member of An Garda Síochána appeared before Judge Gerard Haughton at the District Court last week, accused of leading gardaí on a lethal high-speed chase in a car that contained drugs paraphernalia, while above the drink driving limit.

While the charge of drink driving was dismissed owing to paperwork not being in order and the possession of cannabis charge was also dismissed after 'the presumptive test did not suffice to sustain such a charge', Judge Haugton has taken time to consider the litany of dangerous driving charges against 33-year-old John Bowe from Kiltealy.

Former garda Bowe was charged with a total of thirteen counts of dangerous driving, having led gardaí on a chase that allegedly hit speeds of 140km/h on winding rural roads. Once he was finally caught, he was also charged with drink driving, non display of a tax disc and unlawful possession of drugs after gardaí discovered a grinder, which contained cannabis herb, in the car he had been driving.

The incidents took place on December 5 of 2014, a date which, according to the court records, would have been Bowe's 30th birthday.

Speaking from the witness box, Garda Michael Dee gave frightening evidence of a chase which lasted some 15 minutes and covered 30km of country roads in the Bunclody, Clohamon and Ferns areas.

He stated that on the night in question at around 8.45 p.m., he and Sgt Rory Sheriff were conducting a checkpoint in Bunclody, arising from reported burglaries that had taken place in the area earlier that day. He said that the vehicle connected with these offences, a silver coloured Audi A4, matched the description of the car being driven by the defendant when he pulled a u-turn ahead of the checkpoint and set off at speed.

Garda Dee said that initially, they believed the car could be connected to the burglaries and immediately gave chase. He said Bowe got up to speeds of 140km/h in a 50km/h zone in the built up area of the town, before driving over the roundabout towards Carnew, forcing other cars to take urgent evasive action. At Graiguebeg, the vehicle forced a garda patrol car up on to the ditch to avoid a collision and a civilian car took similar evasive action. Garda Dee presented a litany of instances where Bowe had driven recklessly, all the while maintaining speeds of between 120 and 140km/h.

He stated that at one point, the Audi A4 drove in around a private farm yard and around grassland there before emerging back onto the Clohamon road, forcing a car to swerve, and getting back up to speeds of 130km/h. He said that he maintained this speed as he passed Ballyroebuck National School, which thankfully was closed, but at least one car had to pull in to let Bowe pass.

He added that during the course of the pursuit, the vehicle also hit speeds in excess of 120km/h passing Kilrush/Askamore GAA club where there was an under-age match going on at the time and people were also forced to jump out of the way as the defendant passed Coleman's Pub at speed.

Garda Dee described it as 'some of the craziest driving I've ever seen' and stated that on a couple of occasions, sparks were even flying from the Audi's brake callipers as the defendant was taking bends so quickly.

Eventually, Garda Dee said, the vehicle came to a stop after turning into a gateway at Ballyrankin. The gate was closed and the driver, now known to be Bowe, hopped the gate and electric fence and attempted to flee on foot. He said he noticed a long silver object, since established to be a bottle-opener keyring, glisten in the headlights and shouted 'knife, knife' to his colleague to warn him.

Garda Dee said that he carried out a quick check to make sure that there was nobody else in the vehicle, while his colleague, Sgt Sheriff, pursued the defendant on foot. Having almost caught up, Garda Dee said his colleague and the defendant 'came together' up ahead and Sgt Sheriff was standing over him.

Defence solicitor Mr Gerry Flynn had a whole series of questions for Garda Dee surrounding the injuries that his client had allegedly sustained in the melee. He showed the court photos of a nasty cut to Bowe's head and Garda Dee said it was possible that it had been the result of Detective Sgt Sheriff deploying his baton. However, he said that he had not directly seen this. Mr Flynn would go on to allege that his client had been dragged, unconscious, in handcuffs across the field to the squad car, something Garda Dee strongly denied, saying that Bowe had been 'relatively chatty' on his way back across the field.

Mr Flynn also presented a number of pictures of bruising to his clients legs and feet and said that, it would be Mr Bowe's testimony that he was struck a number of times by someone on the legs and feet.

Again this was something that Garda Dee strongly denied. Looking at the photos, he said: 'These look like old bruises to me. I've broken both ankles and I can tell you, it takes a couple of days before bruises go black like that. There is absolutely no way I would allow someone to assault a prisoner in my custody. (...) I can assure you that those bruises did not happen in my custody.'

When asked at what point Bowe disclosed that he was a former member of An Garda Síochána, Garda Dee replied: 'When we got back to the car' after the initial chase.

Upon being brought back to Enniscorthy Garda Station, Bowe provided a breath specimen which returned a reading of 34mg of alcohol per 100ml of breath. Mr Flynn questioned why gardaí had not sought immediate medical attention for his client, given that he had a head wound. Garda Dee responded that the wound was 'not that bad' and that Bowe was not bleeding heavily at this time. He said that the defendant rejected medical attention and said that he was 'grand'.

Mr Flynn then put it to Garda Dee that he had told his client that 'if he played ball, he would be treated in a particular fashion'. Again this was something denied by the garda. Mr Flynn followed this up by asking: 'Did you say to Mr Bowe "there's no point in contesting the drink driving" and to stay away from a certain solicitor?'

At this point, things became slightly uncomfortable as Garda Dee told the Judge: 'Mr Flynn's name came up in conversation alright Judge. I listed off the names of some solicitors who deal with these matters.'

Mr Flynn then asked if the Garda had come across his client earlier that day while operating a different checkpoint. Garda Dee replied that he believed he had come across him at a checkpoint in the Tullow area earlier that day where he was a passenger in the rear seat of a jeep. However, he said he could not be sure of this, because Bowe had not confirmed to him that it was in fact him.

Concluding his cross examination, Mr Flynn rather cryptically asked: 'Is it fair to say that by the time you were processing him, you regretted what had happened?'

Garda Dee was strong in his reply. 'No, there were some very serious offences. It's some of the craziest driving I've ever seen. I don't regret the prosecutions at all.'

At this point, with the case already running at nearly two hours and with evidence only heard from one witness, Judge Haughton opted to call a halt to proceedings for the evening. It was agreed that a special sitting would be held to hear the rest of the case and all matters were adjourned until the following week. As he stepped down from the witness box, Judge Haughton ordered that there be no contact between Garda Dee and the other garda witnesses who had been asked to leave the court while the first of the evidence was given.

When proceedings got underway on the second day, solicitor Gerry Flynn said that he had misled the court when he suggested that photographs of his client's injuries had been taken on the night in question. He had been corrected by Michelle Kinsella who told him that the shots of bruising on the defendant's lower limbs were in fact taken over a period from December 7 to December 9.

Detective Sgt Rory Sheriff was sworn in to confirm that he was on duty with his colleague Michael Dee at around 8.40 p.m. on the evening of December 5, 2014. Together they were manning a checkpoint at Ryland Road in Bunclody when he noticed a light coloured Audi perform a U-turn and speed away towards Bunclody. Then a uniformed officer, Detective Sgt Sheriff, gave similar evidence to Garda Dee about Bowe's erratic driving and added that gardaí in Waterford, Dublin and Newbridge were attempting to assist and that a Garda helicopter had been activated. He gave evidence of a number of vehicles being forced to take evasive action as the Audi reached speeds of up to 140km/h, with sparks coming from the wheels.

When the vehicle finally came to a stop, Sgt Sheriff said he heard his colleague shouting that the defendant had a knife as he made his way through a barbed wire fence in pursuit. The night was bright with moonlight and dry, the witness confirmed, recalling how he led the chase now on foot. A bright metallic object, later established to be a bottle opener key ring, could be seen as the fugitive ran and the sergeant decided to draw his baton.

He closed to within five yards, at which point the suspect turned and lunged at him with his right hand. The sergeant's recalled that his reaction was to strike the man, who turned out to be John Bowe, with the baton. The defendant fell on to the ground where he was restrained. Within seconds, Michael Dee arrived and he formally arrested Bowe, whose hands were cuffed behind his back. He was placed in the patrol car and a 'cursory' search found a grinder and cannabis. The prisoner confirmed that it was 'weed'.

He also informed the sergeant that he was a former member of An Garda Siochána and that he was sorry for his actions. Asked why he had acted in such a way, he said it was his 30th birthday and that he had no tax on the car.

He was conveyed to Enniscorthy garda station where he declined medical assistance. Following the taking of a breath sample, he was brought to the Slaney Medical Centre. Sgt Sheriff reported that he declined treatment at the centre and left the premises.

He reported that the accused stated on the night that he had drunk four pints. Questioned about his use of the baton, the witness insisted that he did not intend to hit Bowe to the head with the retractable steel baton.

'I struck down as he lunged at my midriff aiming at his upper body,' he told the court.

He submitted a report on the use of the baton and later faced an allegation of assault.

Judge Haughton interjected at this point to say he did not want to hear anything about the investigations into the assault allegation.

The sergeant resumed his testimony by saying that what he witnessed that night was the most horrific example of dangerous driving he had ever seen. Under cross-examination by the defending solicitor Gerry Flynn, he confirmed that he feared for his safety when Bowe turned and lunged at his midriff with what he believed was a knife. The suspect received a single blow to the head and the sergeant stated that he (Bowe) did not put up his arms beforehand to surrender.

The witness had no explanation to offer the court as photos were shown to him of what Mr Flynn called significant bruising to his client's lower limbs.

'He was struck once,' insisted Sergeant Sheriff who said the strike to the head was unintentional. 'I was in fear for my safety.'

He disagreed when the solicitor suggested that there was no need to strike at all and added that the use of pepper spray was not considered in the circumstances. Brought back to the public road, the prisoner was helped over the gate where three or four patrol cars were now waiting.

It was after 9 p.m. when he arrived with the arresting gardaí at the barracks on Enniscorthy. According to this version of events, he was not rendered unconscious by what the sergeant now accepted was a serious injury. He told the member in charge at the barracks that he was 'grand' and that he had drunk three or four pints.

Detective Garda Sergeant Noel McSweeney gave evidence of conducting a 'presumptive' test on green material seized by colleagues investigating the case. The test showed up positive for cannabis.

John Bowe entered the witness box where he confirmed that he is now heading for 34 years of age and that he is resident in Bunclody with his partner and three children. He had no previous convictions of any kind and served as a garda during the period 2006 to 2008.

He was posted to Sundrive Road and Cahir before resigning: 'The career was just not for me.'

A carpenter by profession, he was employed on a refurbishment job in County Wicklow and living in Clohamon at the time in question. He got a lift back to Bunclody that evening and arrived in Redmond's pub around 6 p.m. He had a number of drinks, two or three pints of Heineken before getting fast food and setting off to drive home in his partner's gold coloured Audi.

As he neared Clohamon, he realised there was a checkpoint, that he had alcohol taken and that there was no tax on the car. In a moment of madness, he made the U-turn.

'I regret my actions that night,' he told the court. 'I am not proud of myself.'

His version of the chase in the field was that he had made it no more than 100 yards cross-country when he stumbled and was on the ground.

He said he raised his hands and said 'you have me' before he sustained the blow to the rear of his head. He also stated that he was dragged through the field, receiving blows to the legs and digs in the chest on the way.

The accused observed that he was apprehended so aggressively because his pursuers believed he was responsible for burglaries. He said he told the member in charge at the station that he was grand, but he was not. He said that, while there, he was told that if he played ball with the gardaí, then they would play ball with him.

He was advised not to worry about the motor tax and not to involve a solicitor in the drink drive matter with Gerry Flynn specifically named on the night. He confirmed that he left Caredoc in Enniscorthy without receiving any treatment, saying that he did not want to make too much of what had occurred. He was picked up by a friend who brought him to his partner's house.

Ms Kinsella persuaded him to go with her to Caredoc in Gorey where he was seen at 1 a.m. The doctor there told him he could see the skull and the couple then went on the Wexford General.

On the way, Bowe recalled, he was very confused, coming in and out of consciousness.

The wound was stapled together there and he left only to be re-admitted after suffering headaches over the weekend. The court learned that he had not been able to return since to work as a roofing carpenter, instead enrolling in college with a view to finding a less physically demanding career. A report from a consultant neurologist was handed up to the judge.

The defendant said he was still under treatment in Dun Laoghaire as the signals were not coming through correctly from his brain. He accepted the prosecution evidence of his dangerous driving.

Michelle Kinsella told the court she was initially mad with her partner for what he had done when he was delivered to her home that night. However, she became concerned after noting that his hat was covered in blood and he would not let her touch his head.

She took photos on her phone to persuade him how bad the injury actually was and then she made the 1 a.m. appointment with Caredoc in Gorey. Over the next few days, she noted that Bowe complained of pains in his legs and she took pictures of the bruising. Ms Kinsella's mother Bridget Kinsella also gave evidence. A professional nurse, she helped to dress the head injury, and she also recalled seeing bruises on leg and chest.

She said that had been so much stress since the occurrences of December 5, 2014. 'He is a changed man and we are supporting him all the time,' she concluded. The defending solicitor maintained that the force used in this case was excessive and troubling.

This tainted the legality of the arrest, suggested Mr Flynn. A steel baton was a potentially lethal weapon and using it to a suspect's head was only excusable in the most extreme circumstances, he argued.

The blow received had catastrophic consequences for Bowe.

The judge dismissed the cannabis possession prosecution, ruling that the presumptive test did not suffice to sustain such a charge.

He also dismissed the drink driving charge after noting that the paperwork in an attempt to deal with the alleged offence by way of a postal fine was not in order.

No decision was reached on the 13 dangerous driving charges, with judgement reserved until December 5.

Gorey Guardian