The motive behind the attack by a man armed with a hammer on a woman remained a mystery at Wexford Circuit Court, to the frustration of Judge James McCourt.
He was due to sentence Derek James (59) from Tintern in Saltmills, who pleaded guilty to assault causing harm to a woman on December 11 in 2020.
The accused also admitted threatening serious harm against the injured party and members of her family on the same occasion.
After hearing a summary of the evidence, the judge decided to postpone finalisation of the case until October at the earliest.
The court heard how the defendant burst into the woman’s kitchen on the afternoon in question while the mother-of-three was making a snack.
Investigating Garda Aidan Ryan told how James had a hammer in his hand and he was shouting.
He pushed her, grabbed her by the neck and tried to strike her with the hammer in the presence of the children, pushing her up against a wall.
As a result, the woman’s head hit the wall with bruising impact and she also had her cheek nicked by the hammer.
One of the children was attempting to video the altercation on her mother’s phone.
But the intruder grabbed the phone, flinging it on the ground and stamping on it.
He said words to the effect ‘I am going to kill you all’ as he put the phone on the kitchen counter and smashed it with his hammer.
At one stage he pushed one of the children and followed the woman as she went into the hall of the house.
However, he left the premises after she fell over in the hall and he was arrested three hours later at his home.
Garda Ryan said James resides in a house in Tintern with his mother, wife and son.
When officers arrived to make the arrest they saw him pick up a kitchen knife and they drew their firearms.
However, when he realised who was there he dropped the knife and became cooperative.
He explained that he had been expecting a visit from the family and that was why he needed to have a weapon.
Interviewed about the incident, he said that he had lost his temper after his wife Gemma told him she had been distressed by something that happened when she went to collect their son from school.
He insisted that he had driven to the victim’s home with no intention of injuring anyone and that he brought the hammer to defend himself.
The garda was concerned that there were what he called ‘ongoing issues’ between two families.
Back in 2019 gardaí received a report from Gemma James of a dispute at the gates of the local primary school as children were being collected.
After his arrest Derek James was held in custody at Cloverhill Prison in Dublin for five days before he was granted bail.
He was then effectively under house arrest for three months and he later remained subject to a curfew and forbidden to pass the house where the victim lives with her partner.
Questioned by defence counsel Jordan Fletcher the garda accepted that the incident which led to the prosecution was out of character and a one-off.
Judge McCourt was told that the problem behind hostilities appeared to be an issue between Gemma James and the victim.
Garda Ryan was not prepared to speculate beyond that.
The court was given a lengthy victim impact read on the victim’s behalf by prosecution counsel Sinead Gleeson.
In it, the injured party described herself as a shy and quiet person for whom family is her number one priority, residing with her partner for over 20 years.
She wrote how she had suffered pain and hurt at the hands of Derek James, left feeling vulnerable with the feeling of safety in her own home eroded.
She had feared for her own life and for the lives of her children.
She felt that she would never forget what happened or fully recover, adding that the children had since suffered recurrent nightmares.
She stated that her family no longer walks in the park at Tintern Abbey for fear of meeting James.
“We now live in fear of it happening again,” she wrote, saying that the experience still haunts her and that she continues to suffer headaches.
She added that she had lost weight and had attended her GP complaining of loss of sleep.
Security gates had been installed at the house, the statement continued, adding that she had been diagnosed as having ‘post-concussion syndrome’.
She concluded that irreversible damage had been caused by an attack for which there was no valid reason.
Speaking up for James, Mr Fletcher revealed that his client is originally from the UK where he worked as an antiques restorer.
He later moved to Greece with his wife before coming to Ireland in 2017 to care for his widowed mother who owns the house in Tintern.
Counsel stated that the accused man’s son has been removed from the school, that James had not been inside the local supermarket since being granted bail, and that he took the terms of his curfew very seriously.
“He has proven since that he can be trusted not to do this again,” suggested the barrister.
He added that efforts had been made to sell the mother’s house so that the family could re-locate in the UK.
A buyer had been arranged but the sale fell through and the place was now back on the market.
The judge was perplexed by the case: “I have no understanding as to how things came to such a pass.”
He found the events of December 11, 2020 deeply troubling but felt he had been offered nothing to help him understand what led up to the assault.
He remarked that he was considering the matter “in a vacuum”.
The court was concerned that injuries mentioned in the victim impact statement had been introduced without a ‘scintilla’ of supporting formal medical evidence.
It was clear that James had no previous convictions.
Through testimonials submitted by the defence, it appeared that he had an otherwise unblemished personal history and had never been in trouble before.
Judge McCourt ordered preparation of a probation report and adjourned the case to October 4, extending the defendant’s bail to that date.