28 Jan 2022

Further remand in custody for three on violent assault charge in Longford town

Incident "could have finished with a life lost", says Judge Seamus Hughes

Further remand in custody for three on violent assault charge in Longford town

Three men charged with a violent disorder, which involved a stabbing and an axe in June of last year, have been further remanded in custody following a lengthy bail application and hearing.

Denis Hannifin (39), Curry, Athlone Road, Longford, Thomas Hannifin (41), Dublin Road, Longford, and Willie Hannifin (33), Knockahaw, Dublin Road Longford, appeared before Judge Seamus Hughes at Longford District Court last week and were remanded in custody to reappear on today’s date, April 14.

Restating the facts of the incident from June 2, 2019, Gda John Hanley explained that five men arrived to the Texaco filling station on the Dublin Road at approximately 5pm on the date in question.

One man entered the shop where the victim, Ronan Stokes, was talking to his cousin. A fight began and quickly escalated outside the doors.

It is then alleged that three other males attacked Mr Stokes, with one producing a knife and slashing his back, while another was punching him. Another male swung an axe, but did not make contact with the injured party.

The fifth male, who was driving the jeep, diffused the situation, with all of the accused then getting into the vehicle and leaving.

Read more: Three in custody and two on bail following Longford court appearance for violent assault

Due to the nature of the charges, Inspector Frank Finn explained that the State would be opposing bail, and that the prosecution would be calling a number of witnesses.

Mikey Stokes, father of the victim, took to the stand first and explained to the court that he feels intimidated by the accused and that a number of incidents occurred last week after the three men were remanded in custody and two juveniles were given bail.

He alleged that, following last week’s sitting of Longford District Court, one of the two juveniles followed his sons around, videoing them and sticking up his fingers at them.

“So the intimidation continues,” said Judge Hughes.

“Yes. Every time we see them, they’re intimidating us. We can’t even go home the Dublin Road and we live out there. We’ve to go the back roads,” said Mr Stokes.

Addressing Mr Stokes, Inspector Frank Finn asked if he believed the three men in court this morning should be granted bail.

“No. This is going on for months. My house was shot at. My house was petrol bombed. My son's house was burned. My neighbour’s house was burned. They want us to drop the charges but we won’t,” said Mr Stokes, adding that the intimidation was so bad that he couldn’t even go to relatives’ funerals.

“If they were convicted in the Circuit Court and given a long sentence, would that solve it?” Judge Hughes asked Mr Stokes.

“That’ll finish the whole lot. Those men have never been in prison. If they done a few months, that’ll turn it around,” Mr Stokes replied.

During his cross-examination of the witness, solicitor for the defence, Patrick Carty, asked Mr Stokes if he recalled being featured in a video inviting the Hannifin family out to fight.

“Your honour, I was getting that much intimidation. My son said we’d fight it out. This is all one-sided,” said Mr Stokes, addressing the judge.

“So that’s a yes… you featured in a video where you say ‘if you come out and fight us, we’ll drop all charges’,” said Mr Carty.

Mr Stokes acknowledged that he was involved in the video but said he was angry at the time.

“Would a bare knuckle boxing contest sort it out?” Judge Hughes inquired.

“At the start it would have, but not now,” Mr Stokes replied.

“Is that still on the cards?” Judge Hughes asked.

“No,” said Mr Stokes, before again listing off the number of shooting and arson attacks his family had allegedly suffered at the hands of the rival family.

“Are you aware that there was an arson attack on the home of Denis Hannifin while he was in custody? And that there were shots fired at his home too?” Mr Carty asked of Mr Stokes.

Mr Stokes replied that the accused were allegedly arguing with three different families, any one of which could have been behind those attacks.

Moments later, Mr Stokes’ wife and mother of the victim, Sarah Kelly, took to the stand to give evidence. She too explained that their house was shot at and petrol bombed, as was her son’s house.

“Since my son got cut, it’s only them that we’re rowing with. We’re just getting tormented the whole time by them,” she said.

Witness for the defence, Siobhán Hannifin, who is the wife of one of the accused, Denis Hannifin, in her evidence explained that she had suffered intimidation at the hands of the Stokes family last week.

“I had to meet my brother in town at Luigi’s, so I walked up the town,” she explained, before alleging that two members of the Stokes family followed her in a jeep and put their fists out the window.

“They said ‘we got them put away and now we’re going to kill you’. I went to the gardaí to report it but they didn’t take my statement,” said Ms Hannifin.

“On Wednesday, I went to collect my children’s allowance. Parking is hard got so I went up the town to do a U-turn and get parking,” she said, adding that another member of the Stokes family followed her in his jeep and started giving her the finger.

“I didn’t stop at the post office. I was on my way to the station and they kept doing the fist gestures, beeping the horn and shouting ‘come on, come on’ and putting up their middle fingers,” she said.

“I said to the gardaí that I’m a woman on my own with kids and can I not just be left alone? I feel lost at this stage.”

“This seems to be tit for tat,” said Judge Hughes, “What does it take to finish this? A life? A murder?”

“I think both sides should be listened to by the guards and a mediator. It’s not only one side,” said Ms Hannifin.

In conclusion, Mr Carty, for the defence, explained that his client, Willie Hannifin, was a man who had not really come to the attention of gardaí before, adding that he is a family man and has ties to the community. He has been on bail for these charges since September.

“I’ve seen the CCTV myself and wasn’t impressed,” said Mr Carty, adding that, despite that, the footage would confirm Thomas Hannifin’s claim of self-defence.

“He backed towards the door. What more could he do?” Mr Carty asked.

Mr Carty explained that both Thomas Hannifin and Denis Hannifin were on High Court bail on another matter and have strict bail conditions.

“The High Court judge doesn’t appreciate the criminality that I deal with in Longford every week. Even the national media has taken an interest in Longford,” said Judge Hughes.

“I was horrified to read about Longford in the same category as the likes of Drogheda and Limerick. There are shooting incidents, arson attempts, stabbings.

“I can’t ignore the fact that five people arrived in one vehicle and there were weapons involved. There seems to have been a common purpose amongst the people in the vehicle,” Judge Hughes continued.

“I’m not impressed by the person who tried to diffuse the situation. It could have finished with a life lost. The victim may have been the instigator inside the shop, but the response was disproportionate.

“The public demands that courts take firm action against incidents like these. So I’m refusing bail.”

All three men have been remanded in custody to Harristown District Court on April 24.

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