A former Dublin hurler who robbed over €13,000 from Ardagh Post Office in October of last year and took the car of a lady who was inside the post office at the time has been sentenced to five years in prison with the final two years suspended.
Alan Coyne, Ballinaree Cottage, Edgesworthstown, appeared before Judge Keenan Johnson at Longford Circuit Court last Friday, charged with robbing staff member, Melanie Lyons, of €13,288.20.
He was also charged with producing a knife, robbing Mary Leavy Lenehan of her car keys, valued at €100, and taking possession of the vehicle without consent of the owner.
CCTV footage viewed by the court on Friday showed that at approximately 2.36pm on October 16, 2019, Mr Coyne entered the post office in Ardagh, wearing a baseball hat and a snood, which covered the lower half of his face. With a small knife in his hand, he walked up to the counter and demanded the money from the safe, explained Mr Shane Geraghty BL, for the prosecution.
Ms Melanie Lyons, who was working behind the counter on the day, went to the safe to retrieve the cash but was so shaken that she dropped the tupperware container she had put it in and had to scramble to pick up the money.
While Ms Lyons was retrieving the cash, Mr Geraghty explained, Mr Coyne put his arm around Mary Leavy Lenehan, held a knife to her chest and asked her if she had a car. Seeing the knife, Ms Leavy Lenehan handed over the keys to her car, which was parked outside.
While all of this was occurring, a delivery man entered the building and Mr Coyne can be seen on CCTV walking over to him and waving the knife in the air while telling him to do nothing.
Footage then shows Mr Coyne walking back to the counter to take the money before exiting the premises.
At some stage during the incident, Ms Lyons had managed to push a panic button to alert gardaí to the robbery.
Gardaí pursued Mr Coyne on the N55 and he lost control of the vehicle on a sharp bend when heading towards Edgeworthstown.
Mr Coyne was arrested at the location. He was taken by ambulance to Mullingar Hospital and was later released and taken to Granard Garda Station where he was detained, interviewed once, and made a full admission.
The money was recovered at the scene, along with the hat and knife, and Mr Coyne was fully cooperative.
The court heard that Mr Coyne left school at the age of 14 and that “stuff happened in school” that he didn’t want to go into.
He developed a drug addiction and suffered a relapse when his partner had a miscarriage and his relationship broke down.
As a result, the court heard, Mr Coyne ran up a bill with a local drug dealer, owing him €1,300, and another €130 to another dealer in Mullingar.
At this stage Mr Coyne was using six bags of heroin per day, for a habit that was costing him €100 per day and told gardaí that he committed the offence out of desperation.
“I’d say it was just horrifying,” he said in his interview with gardaí, when asked how he thought the experience felt for the two women in the Post Office.
“No one deserves any of this bulls***. I was five years clean and, because I relapsed, I f***ed it up for everyone. It’s a pity the car didn’t roll a few more times.”
Mr Coyne has 35 previous convictions in total, including a large number of robberies, two attempted robberies and larceny.
In her victim impact statement, Ms Leavy Lenehan explained that the past number of months have been “very stressful”.
“I knew I would never see my car again. I was unable to attend work and I had to take five sick days,” she said, adding that she had to replace her car and, financially, was out of pocket by a lot.
“I feel there is nothing there for victims - no support,” she said.
She also said that she felt “shock and stress” from being held at knife point but her biggest fear at the time was that her car would collide with an innocent person or family, “which would have led to serious injury or death, judging by the state of my car”.
The incident has caused a deep sense of shock, she said, and her personal life has been disrupted, as were her concentration levels and her sleep pattern. She will be attending counselling sessions to help her with the lasting effects of the incident.
Melanie Lyons, when reading her victim impact statement, said that when Mr Coyne left the post office, she felt “only relief that the imminent danger was gone”, but the relief only lasted a few minutes before the shock hit.
“It felt like a nightmare,” she told the court.
“I was picturing what did happen and picturing what could have happened.”
The next day, she said, she had a job interview in Dublin but, due to the severe shock of what had happened, she was unable to prepare and was unable to even think about what she might be asked at the interview.
“While walking to the interview, I had the urge to step away from people. I had a new awareness of how quickly things could happen,” she said.
“I worried that word would get out about the money being taken from the post office and that I was an easy target.
“I feel alarmed when someone makes a sudden movement. I’m worried about the weapons they can have behind their backs.
“No one should feel unsafe in their working environment. No one should have their possessions stolen and no one should feel threatened when going about their daily routine.”
Mr Coyne, when called to address the court, said that his words would not “carry enough weight to convey how wrong this was”.
“Nobody deserves this. I’m a big guy. I’d be afraid if someone came in and did that so I can only imagine what those two women went through.
“I’ll gladly go to jail if it gives these two ladies a bit of peace,” he said.
When asked what caused the events in October last year, Mr Coyne said “I caused the events”.
“It was a threat. I’d been clean for many years and I relapsed. I was getting heroin on credit,” he explained.
“A breakdown in my relationship and a miscarriage destroyed me. I thougt I was never going to be a father, because of the drugs, even though I always dreamed of it.
“When it happened, it completely changed my life. I was beyond elated. But my partner had a miscarriage and that brought about the end of the relationship.
“I started drinking alcohol again when I was at a 60th birthday party and people were commenting that I was the only one not drinking.
“I fooled myself into thinking I could have a beer again. I was lying to myself but every relapse I’ve had has happened after alcohol.
“I cut myself off from results. I was no longer practicing a programme of recovery,” he said.
“I thought I had everything under control. Slowly but surely, small little bits of behaviour started creeping into my life and I ended up going back into the dark side.
“I couldn't keep up paying for it. I was told things would happen if I didn’t get the money straight away.
“I’m very remorseful for what happened. I can’t even put it into words. Me not on drugs - never in a million years would this enter my mind. Any trouble I’ve ever gotten into has been a direct result of drugs.”
Mr Coyne explained that he started taking drugs at the age of 19 or 20 and quickly developed a serious addiction.
“The drugs did what they were meant to do. They became everything - my best friend. I didn’t need anybody. I didn’t want to commit suicide because of certain things that happened in my childhood. I didn’t have to think about that,” he said.
“But everybody was affected by what I did. Any morals I had growing up just went out the window. Heroin robbed me of everything, but I still went back to it.
“I was shocked at how quickly my mind went from recovery to relapse.
“It’s incredible to think at 45 I’m sitting here, with good rearing from my family. Everything relies on recovery. I can go to jail and do x amount of years but unless I have recovery, I have nothing.”
The court was also furnished with a letter from St Francis’ Rehabilitation Centre stating that if and when Mr Coyne satisfies the requirements, he will be accepted onto the programme, which will consist of a six week detox, followed by a 14-week residential treatment plan.
Phase two of the treatment sees patients return to the community, but continue to provide urine samples and avail of supports. The entirety of the programme is 18 months.
Judge Johnson, having heard all the evidence, said that he believed Mr Coyne “is genuine in what he says”.
“This is not an unusual offence for Mr Coyne, which is indicative of what drugs can do to society. But it is an extremely serious offence.”
Judge Johnson went on to thank Ms Lyons and Ms Leavy Lenehan for their victim impact statements, agreeing with Ms Leavy Lenehan that more support is needed for victims of crime.
“I commend you both for coming to court and I hope today’s sentencing will draw a line in the sand. Please don’t allow this to define your lives,” he told them.
Turning to the sentencing of Mr Coyne, Judge Johnson noted that the transition from recovery back to addiction “hit him like a freight train” after his partner suffered a miscarriage.
“The key thing in recovery is you go for help when you get a serious knock like that,” he told Mr Coyne.
Judge Johnson also hit out at the people who felt the need to comment on Mr Coyne’s abstinance from alcohol at the 60th birthday party, where he ultimately gave in and drank.
“His not drinking was a subject of comment. People need to respect people’s entitlement not to drink. That first drink for you was catastrophic. It’s a very sad state of affairs,” he said.
Looking at sentencing, Judge Johnson said that because Mr Coyne entered the Post Office, armed with a knife and terrorised the two victims, his offence attracts a headline sentence of seven years.
Taking into account all of the aggravating and mitigating factors, he reduced that sentence to five years and suspended the final two years for a period of ten years with a number of conditions.
Mr Coyne is to refrain from alcohol and drugs for the entirety of his suspended sentence, is to take part in rehabilitation, and has been ordered to pay €4,000 compensation to both of the victims.