Friday 19 April 2019

Hung jury over garda Lissadell assault allegation

Man found not guilty of burglary at home of his former wife

Brendan Leydon leaving Sligo Circuit Criminal Court last Wednesday. Pic: Carl Brennan
Brendan Leydon leaving Sligo Circuit Criminal Court last Wednesday. Pic: Carl Brennan

Sorcha Crowley

A 50-year-old man is facing a possible re-trial on a charge of assaulting a Garda Sergeant in North Sligo after a jury failed to reach a verdict at Sligo Circuit Criminal Court last Friday.

A day earlier, the jury of seven men and five women found Brendan Leydon, of Lissadell, Ballinfull, not guilty of burglary of a house in Lissadell on 30th April 2016.

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Leydon had pleaded not guilty before Judge Francis Comerford to the burglary charge and to a second charge of assaulting Sgt Terence McMahon.

The jury continued its deliberations on the assault charge into Friday but were unable to reach either a unanimous or a majority verdict.

The legal owner of the house, Leydon’s former wife, earlier in the week testified that on the date in question, the defendant appeared at her mother’s house and served her a purported legal document which he claimed gave him the right to take the family home.

“He said ‘I’m serving this on you’ with a kind of smirk on his face and he left,” she told the court.

“I felt the blood drain from my body from the shock,” she said.

The woman said she jumped into her car and drove to her house, which she had been preparing to rent out the week before.

When she arrived at her property, there was a large chain and lock on the two front gates and the defendant’s car was parked outside the front door.

His ex-wife climbed over the gate and tried her key on the front door but it wouldn’t work.

She told the court she tried the utility door but that wouldn’t open either. When she returned to the front door she said she saw Brendan Leydon in the sitting room “laughing” at her “with a big smirk on his face.”

She rang the Gardaí and her brother and moved away from the front door.

“I couldn’t believe that he had thought that this was a normal thing to do. I couldn’t understand the lowness of his behaviour,” she told Mr Pat Reynolds SC, for the Prosecution, who was instructed by Ms Elisa McHugh, State Solicitor for Sligo.

Mr Pat O’Sullivan BL was defending, instructed by Mr Morgan Coleman solicitor.

The jury was shown a legal document confirming Leydon’s former wife was the sole legal owner of the house.

Sergeant Terence McMahon of Grange Garda Station took the witness stand next and confirmed he attended the scene shortly after 9pm that evening, accompanied by Garda Fiach O’Toole.

He said the defendant’s former wife was “most insistent that Brendan Leydon had no right to be in the house.”

He said she showed him the document Leydon had served on her and he inspected it.

“To me, it appeared to be a Notice of Motion, not a court order. The Notice of Motion was for the following 6th July 2016,” said the sergeant.

He and Garda O’Toole approached the house. The defendant was in a front bedroom and opened the window.

“He told me that he was taking possession of the house and that he had the right to do so,” said the witness.

“He handed me the same document and said it gave him permission,” said Sgt McMahon.

He told Leydon that he didn’t believe it was a court order and asked him where he thought he got a court order on a Bank Holiday Saturday.

“He said it was his solicitor (who got the order) and said his solicitor told him ‘possession is nine tenths of the law’,” said the witness.

The sergeant told the court that Leydon gave him the name of a solicitor from Knockvicar, a name he didn’t recognise and then purported to call him on his phone.

He allegedly told the sergeant he couldn’t enter without a warrant to which the sergeant replied that if he had committed a burglary he didn’t need a warrant to either enter or arrest him.

Sergeant McMahon said he asked to speak to Leydon’s solicitor on the phone but Leydon refused.

“It’s my honest belief there was no one on the phone,” he told Judge Comerford.

Sgt McMahon took a short statement from the owner of the house and then continued trying to persuade Leydon to come out of the house.

“You’ll have to come in and arrest me,” Leydon allegedly told him.

Sgt McMahon and Gda O’Toole then climbed in the front bedroom window and arrested Leydon.

Sgt McMahon said they had to “manhandle” Leydon to the front door and he “reluctantly” gave them a key to open it.

When it was opened, they told Leydon they would have to handcuff him which prompted a 20 minute struggle with the defendant.

“We tried physically to put the handcuffs on him. Brendan Leydon is a very strong man. We weren’t able to put them on him,” he said.

The court heard Garda O’Toole had to pepper-spray the defendant in the end after he continued to resist arrest.

Sgt McMahon also got a residue and “the three of us fell to the ground” at one point. Leydon continued to resist until they negotiated with him: “I said if he gave me his world we wouldn’t put the hand cuffs on him and walk him down the driveway to the patrol car. He gave me his word.”

The witness said Leydon finally walked with them down towards the gate.

“As we approached the gate, we both went to go over the gate. But Brendan Leydon made a burst for freedom.”

“He tried to push me off but I still had a grip on him,” Sgt McMahon said.

A tussle ensued, with Leydon on one side of the gate and Sgt McMahon still on the house side of the gate.

“I had him by the shoulder of his gilet. Brendan Leydon tried to break the grip - he raised his two hands up and came down on my hands.

“Then he made a huge lunge backwards and pulled me towards the gate. My chest area was struck into the top of the gate. I still had a hold of him. He made another thrust backwards - I was in pain,” he said.

Sgt McMahon was twice forcibly pulled onto the top bar of the gate, cracking his ribs.

With the force of the struggle, Leydon’s gilet finally ripped and “like a conjurer he went down through the gilet and away down the dark road,” said the sergeant.

The defendant fled into the night and the injured sergeant couldn’t find him on the dark back roads.

Sgt McMahon went to hospital and medics told him he had “more than likely cracked ribs.”

He told the court he only took one day off work but was in pain and restricted in his movements for six weeks after.

Garda Fiach O’Toole also testified that he had “never seen the defendant acting in such an irate uncontrollable manner”, was “full of adrenalin” and “shaking violently” that night.

The court heard Leydon went to the Gardaí on 3rd May, three days after the incident.

The jury found Leydon not guilty of burglary of the house and failed to reach a verdict on the assault charge.

Judge Comerford excused them from jury duty for five years. The case will now go back before the Circuit Court for mention on 5th December after directions are sought from the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Sligo Champion