JUDGE John Cheatle heard shocking details of how a New Ross based garda was threatened, assaulted and left with injuries that he fears could impede his career progress in An Garda Síochána at a sitting of Wexford District Court.
Currently in custody at the Midlands Prison for his part in an aggravated burglary, Tristram Dunne (35) with addresses listed at 37 Monastery Avenue, Taghmon; 56 Rosbercon, New Ross and Harristown, Barntown, appeared before the Judge via videolink facing charges of threatening to kill or cause harm and assault causing harm to New Ross Garda Philip McGrath. A host of other charges were withdrawn by the state after a guilty plea was lodged by Dunne’s barrister Emmet Whitmore.
Dunne had initially been due to appear before the court in Wexford, but the prison van he was travelling in was turned around half way from the Midlands Prison when it emerged that he had been a close contact of a confirmed case of Covid-19. As a result the defendant appeared via video-link and had his feet up on the table and was reading the paper when he appeared on the screen of the Judge.
Sgt Paul Daly of New Ross Garda Station told the court that on August 3, 2020, gardaí received a call that a male was in medical difficulty in town. When they arrived at the scene, he said, it was Tristram Dunne, who appeared to have taken some kind of fit. He said that the defendant was intoxicated and “became progressively more aggressive” when dealing with gardaí trying to help him. Not in a position to wait for an ambulance, the gardaí made the decision to arrest Dunne for his and other people’s safety.
At the station, his aggression showed no signs of abating and he had to be placed in a cell in handcuffs. After midnight, Dunne called to have his handcuffs removed so he could urinate. He was instructed to put his back to the cell door and put his hands out through the hatch so the cuffs could be removed.
Sgt Daly explained that, with one hand free, Dunne looped the cuff around Garda McGrath’s hand and “whipped his hands back into the cell, dragging Garda McGrath’s arm with him and causing him significant pain.”
"He laughed at us when we told him to stop pulling,” Sgt Daly said. “At that point he pulled Garda McGrath back and said: ‘See you, ya fake hard c**t, I’m going to do you in the back of the head. You’ll be in the queue at Aldi and you won’t see it coming.”
As Sgt Daly gave his evidence, on the court monitor Dunne shook his head and could be heard to say “f**king bullsh*t”.
Garda Philip McGrath was then called to the witness box to give a victim impact statement. He recalled how he was called back to assist with Dunne, quite a large and powerful man, as he was known to him. He recalled how his hand had been “pinned” by the defendant and how he had screamed out in pain.
"I required some medical treatment, but there’s no loss of mobility or strength,” Garda McGarth told Judge Cheatle. “I do still get pins and needles in that arm though and I’m currently receiving treatment from a neurologist for it. Sometimes it happens to the extent where it will wake me up in the middle of the night. I do worry that it’s something that could impact my career progression with An Garda Síochána.”
Dunne continued to shake his head as Garda McGrath gave his evidence and after this, Sgt Victor Isdell informed the court that Dunne had 76 previous convictions, the most recent of which has him serving four years in the Midlands Prison for aggravated burglary. Of his other convictions, two were for assault, 25 for public order, 12 were road traffic, one criminal damage and two for unauthorised taking of an MPV.
Dunne’s barrister Emmet Whitmore told the court that his client was a father of one and that he had a “decent work history” as a painter/decorator. He noted that on the day in question, Dunne had suffered a seizure and was “not in the right frame of mind”.
"He took umbrage at being kept in handcuffs, but he assures me that it was not his intention to cause injury to Garda McGrath,” he said. “I ask the court to be as lenient as possible and to note that my client pleaded guilty without going to a hearing.”
Judge Cheatle was unimpressed, however.
"I take on board those points,” he said. “But his record renders a custodial element inevitable in this case. Due to the seriousness of the Section 3 (assault causing harm) and the Section 5 (threat to kill or cause harm), I will be making this sentence consecutive.”
Mr Whitmore did challenge this on his client’s behalf, but Judge Cheatle replied: “I will add seven months to his current sentence of four years, given the whole set of circumstances and his behaviour at the garda station,” he said.
As well as an additional seven months on the assault charge, Judge Cheatle gave Dunne a nine month sentence on the threat to kill or cause harm, which he suspended for a period of 24 months.