Longford Circuit Court: Not guilty of falsely imprisoning mother of four

Court hears that defendant had no control over what his brother did on the day woman was forcibly removed from house in Edgeworthstown

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A jury in the trial of a Lanesboro man who was charged with falsely imprisoning a woman in 2015 was directed to find the defendant not guilty following a three day hearing into the matter at Longford Circuit Court last month.

Robert Donoghue, 55 Cnoc na Gaoithe, Lanesboro, Co Longford appeared before Judge Keenan Johnson charged with intentionally or recklessly falsely imprisoning Ann Lawrence without her consent at 20 Mostrim Oaks, Edgeworthstown and at 55 Cnoc na Gaoithe, Lanesboro on November 7, 2015.

During his directions to the jury, Judge Johnson said that it had become clear during the hearing into the matter that the defendant had “played a minor role” in the incident.

“The only way he can be found guilty of false imprisonment at Mostrim Oaks is if the jury were to infer that he aided and abetted his brother with false imprisonment at Mostrim Oaks and therefore we cannot convict,” he added.

“There was false imprisonment in the car, yes, but there is no charge in respect of this.”

Meanwhile, the judge extended his sympathy to Ms Lawrence.

He said both she and her niece had been “excellent” witnesses in the case.

“I hope Ann Lawrence can draw a line in the sand after today’s proceedings,” the Judge said.

Meanwhile the court heard on day one of the trial that Ms Lawrence - a mother of four - had been staying with her sister in Edgeworthstown at the time of the incident because her relationship with the defendant’s brother, Peter, had broken down and she was in fear for her life.

Mr John Hayden for the prosecution told the court that the couple had lived in Co Mayo until 2015 and Ms Lawrence had been in an “abusive” relationship where she had been subject to verbal and physical abuse.

“Towards the end of October 2015, she had concerns about her safety and the safety of her children, so she left the family home and went to live with her sister at 20 Mostrim Oaks in Edgeworthstown,” Mr Hayden continued.

“She also secured a barring order in respect of Peter Donoghue.”

The court then heard how on November 7, 2015 Peter Donoghue drove to Mostrim Oaks with his brother Robert and “physically removed” Ms Lawrence from the house and placed her in the car.

“They drove to Robert’s house in Lanesboro; Ms Lawrence did not want to be there and there was roaring and shouting in the vehicle,” added Mr Hayden, before pointing to the fact that Peter acted aggressively towards his partner while Robert shouted at her.

Meanwhile, in her direct evidence to the court, Ms Lawrence said that she began a relationship with Peter Donoghue in 2012 and together the couple had four children aged two, three, four and five.

She said the family had lived in Co Mayo for a time, but they had move around a lot and also resided in Dublin for a short period.

“In October 2015 I was living in Mayo with Peter and the children - it was very hard, he was very violent and I suffered physical and emotional abuse,” Ms Lawrence told the court.

“I was very concerned, the relationship was getting worse and a knife had been put to my neck.

“Peter said he would kill me and explained to me how he would cover it up.

“I don’t know now how I got out of that house, but I did - I ran to a neighbour’s house and they called the guards.

“I then went to a women’s hostel for a short time and my sister Mary said I could stay with here at 20 Mostrim Oaks in Edgeworthstown, so myself and the children moved there.”

The court then heard from Ms Lawrence about what happened on the date of the incident.

She said it was a couple of days before her birthday and she was in the kitchen making dinner for her kids at around 2pm on the date in question.

Her 15-year-old niece was also there and she was doing Ms Lawrence’s makeup, the court was told.

“Peter Donoghue just barged in the door; I had the doors locked because I was still nervous, but that day I had forgotten to lock the back door,” Ms Lawrence continued, before pointing to the fact that her niece started to scream at that point.

“The next thing I saw was Peter standing there in the kitchen; I jumped up and shouted ‘please don’t hurt me’ and backed into the corner of the kitchen.

“He lifted me up and at that point my niece ran out to the front door where she tried to lock it from the inside, but Peter dragged me out of the house and shoved me into a car.”

Ms Lawrence then told the court that it had only been a short distance from the house to the car and because she had an ingrown toenail at the time, being dragged to the car had caused her a lot of pain.

“I actually told Peter if he stopped dragging me, I would walk with him; I didn’t want to go with him but I was concerned for the kids who were on their own,” she continued in her evidence.

“Then I saw Robert - I was continuously crying and saying ‘please don’t hurt me’ and ‘please let me go’, but Robert said, ‘shut the f**k up, you’re Peter’s woman and he is not going to hurt you’.”

The court was then told that Peter Donoghue drove the car while Robert sat in the passenger’s seat.

“We just sped off really fast,” said Ms Lawrence, before adding, “Robert actually told Peter to slow down and Peter said, ‘we have to get out of here, I’m going to be done for kidnap’.

“I was driven to Lanesboro into some estate where Robert lived.

“I was petrified and I knew there was no point in running, my foot was injured and I was in a lot of pain; I also felt very tired.

“I don’t think that we were in Robert’s house for that long - maybe 20 minutes - Robert left me and Peter to talk and I was getting very scared of Peter because he was asking a lot of questions.

“I was crying so much that Robert made tea and he brought the tea out to us; I was so upset and then I heard Robert say to Peter, 'I’m out of this’.”

The court then heard that Ms Lawrence was “terrified” by that stage and just wanted to go home to her children.

Under cross-examination by Counsel for the defence, Mr Paul Dwyer, Ms Lawrence said that she remembered every detail “of something as serious” as what happened that day.

He put it to Ms Lawrence that the car in which she had been taken to Lanesboro had been parked in a place in Mostrim Oaks where Robert Donoghue would not have had a direct line of sight to the house in which she was staying.

Ms Lawrence confirmed this was the case.

He also said that when his client saw her, she was holding Peter Donoghue’s hand.

“No,” Ms Lawrence said, “He had a hold of my arm”.

She then added, “I was held against my will - I didn’t want to go, I had no choice.”

At this point Mr Dwyer made reference to the fact that Peter Donoghue had stood trial for the false imprisonment of Ms Lawrence and had been sentenced in respect of the matter.

He also said that according to transcripts of her evidence during that trial, Ms Lawrence’s memory was “different now to what it was then”.

She subsequently denied that this was the case.

“You say that Robert was in the passenger seat when you got into the car, but I am going to put it to you that when you were put in the back seat of that car he got into the back seat too,” Mr Dwyer continued, before asking Ms Lawrence if she was certain that Peter Donoghue had used the word ‘kidnap’ when he spoke to Robert Donoghue in the car.

“Peter and Robert were in the front of the car that day and I am certain that Peter said kidnap that day as well,” said Ms Lawrence.

“That is what I remember.”

Meanwhile, on the day two of the trial, it was the State’s turn to put its case forward to the court.

Photographic evidence was also furnished on the day.

Garda Wendy Courtney said that on the date in question, she attended 20 Mostrim Oaks in Edgeworthstown.

CCTV footage from the estate at the time of the incident was also furnished to the court and this was played during proceedings for the benefit of the jury.

The court saw that the car in question was driven into the estate by Peter Donoghue and later he approached the car with Ms Lawrence by the arm.

The car then pulled of at speed and 10 seconds later it was spotted at the level crossing on the Ballymahon Road out of Edgeworthstown.

The court then heard from the victim’s niece who was with Ms Lawrence when Peter Donoghue burst into the house and forcefully removed her aunt from the property.

“We were cooking dinner when Peter Donoghue came in the patio door at the back of the house; my auntie started moving back towards the living room,” she said, before pointing to the fact that she moved towards the front door with the intention of “getting help from the neighbours”.

“My auntie just kept saying ‘no, no, no.

“I went to the neighbour’s house and asked for help and then I saw Peter dragging my auntie down the alleyway beside the house.”

Meanwhile, witness Kevin Rooney was next to provide evidence to the court.

Mr Rooney said that at the time of the incident he resided at 19 Mostrim Oaks and was coming back to his house in his car when he noticed a red car parked in a parking area within the estate.

“The car seemed like it was moving out slowly but then it stopped; I got out of my car and entered my house,” he added, before pointing out that when he entered the kitchen area he heard a “commotion outside”.

“Then I heard shouting and I went to the window of the sitting room and saw a man pulling and dragging a lady from the house next door.

“As they went by the window a young girl was shouting and looking for help.”

Mr Rooney went on to say that he saw the man pulling the woman to the parked red car and at that point he decided to call the Gardaí.

Mr Donoghue’s interview at Granard Garda Station was then played into evidence.

During the interview, the defendant said that he “kinda coaxed in a way” his brother Peter to “talk to his woman” so that they could sort things out.

“As far as I know they were engaged to be married and were together five or six years and have four children together,” he added.

“Those kids are my nieces and nephews and any brother would try to help sort things out.”

In relation to the date in question, Mr Donoghue said that he waited in the car for about 10 minutes while his brother entered the house in Mostrim Oaks.

“Peter and his partner Ann came back to the car and they were holding hands,” the defendant continued.

“Peter asked me if I would sit in the back, so Ann could sit in the front; her and Peter seemed in good form to me.

“Peter drove - he went to my address in Lanesboro to drop me off and I remember he asked me if they could stay in my house that night, so I waited at the house to get a lift to bring my partner, who was in her mother’s house, back home.

“I know that Ann rang her sister from the house and told her that she and Peter had made things up and asked would her sister mind the kids for the day. Peter and Ann were holding hands in the house and she was sitting on his lap.

“I heard no screaming or shouting that day.”

On day three of the trial, Mr Dwyer made an application to the court to have the case against his client struck out.

Counsel for the defence said that there was no evidence to suggest that his client knew that his brother intended going to Mostrim Oaks and behaving the way he did.

“Robert Donoghue was not present at 20 Mostrim Oaks,” he added, before pointing to the fact that Ms Lawrence, in her evidence, had stated that it was Peter Donoghue that took off at speed from the estate.

“She said that Robert asked Peter to slow down but Peter told him that he had to drive fast or he would be done for kidnap.

“Ms Lawrence also stated that she was crying in the back of the car and Robert told her to shut the f**k up, ‘Peter is not going to hurt you’.

“This is not evidence of falsely imprisoning someone; there is nothing to say that he was part of a plot to falsely imprison Ann Lawrence.”

Mr Dwyer then went on to say that it was clear from Ms Lawrence’s evidence that she did not feel that she was being falsely imprisoned by Robert Donoghue.

“It was Peter who used the word kidnap and then Robert stayed quiet,” Counsel for the defendant continued.

“There is simply no proof of intent and no questions were asked about his state of mind at the time; the fact the Peter takes his partner and puts her into the car is something that Robert had no control over.

“Given the way the indictment is framed the evidence is not there to support the two charges against my client.”

Mr Hayden, on behalf of the State, then said that Ann Lawrence was falsely imprisoned that day and what needed to be looked at was the role that Robert Donoghue played in that.

“It is clear that there is evidence that he did aid and abet and encourage what his brother was doing, so it is a matter now for the jury to determine,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Judge Johnson said that it was never put to Mr Donoghue in the memo of interview about what was going on at the house in Mostrim Oaks.

“We all know that a criminal prosecution must be conducted in a very precise fashion and if we look at this indictment it focuses on Mostrim Oaks and Cnoc na Gaoithe,” the Judge said.

“There has been specific evidence that there was no agreement between Robert and Peter Donoghue that Peter would take Ann Lawrence by force and Peter told Robert that he had to go fast because he would be done for kidnap.

“This would indicate that Robert Donoghue was being informed after the fact.”

Judge Johnson went on to say that one of the difficulties he had was the indictment itself.

“I would have a difficulty amending that because everything in the trial has been based on it, so I am loath to amend it at this stage,” the Judge continued.

Addressing the jury later in the afternoon Judge Johnson said that it was Peter Donoghue that had driven the car on the date of the incident when Ann Lawrence had already secured a barring order against him.

“Robert Donoghue acknowledges that he went with his brother so that he could talk to his partner; it is acknowledged that Peter went in the back door of Mostrim Oaks, dragged Ann Lawrence from the property and she says that she was pushed into the car.

“She also says that Robert spoke to her in a very aggressive fashion.

“The accused denies that he helped his brother to falsely imprison Ann Lawrence and denies that he was aware of his brother’s intentions.

“The application made by Mr Dwyer is on the basis that the State hasn’t proved its case in respect of the indictment where the accused is charged with false imprisonment of Ann Lawrence at 20 Mostrim Oaks and at 55 Cnoc na Gaoithe.

“In considering the charge at 20 Mostrim Oaks the jury would have to consider if the accused had acted in concert with his brother and he denies that he knew his brother was going to do what he did.

“The accused maintains that he was assisting his brother to talk with Ann Lawrence.”

The Judge subsequently directed the jury to find the defendant not guilty on both charges before the court.

“I am satisfied,” Judge Johnson concluded, “that in respect of the charges, the jury cannot convict and I am directing that you find the defendant not guilty”.