Judge Seamus Hughes
A man with a 20 year driving ban and who was caught by gardaí attempting to swap seats with his partner while at the wheel has been jailed for five months.
Nigel Curran (32) 5 Hillside, Finea, Co Westmeath, was handed down the sentence at last week’s District Court sitting by Judge Seamus Hughes.
Mr Curran had pleaded not guilty to the incident which occurred at An Rath Beag, Abbeylara, Co Longford on January 13, 2020.
Prosecuting Garda Tom Neary said he and his colleague Garda Daragh Cregg had been on mobile patrol when they spotted a red Seat van being driven into An Rath Beag, a residential housing estate in Abbeylara shortly before 1am.
Garda Neary said he witnessed Mr Curran in the driver’s seat who stopped and turned the van before turning behind the patrol car.
“I then got out of the patrol car and as I was approaching the van, the driver got into the passenger seat from the driver's seat,” he said, adding his partner Kim Harten was the individual who swapped seats with the accused.
The garda said after asking Ms Harten to turn off the vehicle’s engine, Mr Curran got out of the passenger door and attempted to walk away from the scene.
He told the court he was aware Mr Curran was a disqualified driver and duly arrested him at 12:50am before bringing him to Granard Garda Station.
He said he charged him at 3:40am, adding Mr Curran made no reply when an additional charge of no insurance was put to him.
Asked by Judge Hughes as to Mr Curran’s behaviour at the scene, Garda Neary replied: “He wasn’t very cooperative and he wouldn’t engage with me.”
Garda Neary said he also arrested Ms Harten on the night but dealt with by means of a ticket for public order.
“His partner was arrested because I had Nigel (Curran) in the patrol car and she went back to the van and attempted to gain entry to it,” he said, describing the scenario facing both him and his colleague as “a bit awkward” and not “straightforward”.
In defence, solicitor Frank Gearty suggested Garda Neary may have been mistaken as to what he saw on the night due to a lack of visibility.
Garda Neary denied those claims, adding: “I am 100 per cent sure it was Nigel Curran driving that car.”
Mr Gearty also pressed the garda as to why he decided against arresting his client for drink driving as he, by his own admission, was under the influence and asked why a demand was made for Ms Harten to produce her insurance documentation.
“Absolutely not,” Garda Neary replied. “She wasn’t driving the car. I would have no reason to ask for it.”
Garda Cregg backed up his colleague’s version of events and said he quite clearly observed Mr Curran switching seats with Ms Harten.
“The male driver got into the passenger seat,” he said, in reference to the manoeuvre he noticed Mr Curran and Ms Harten undertaking.
He too spoke of the aggressive nature of the incident, describing the scene as a “bit volatile.”
Mr Curran, himself, took the stand, to insist he was not in the driver’s seat and was instead eating a Chinese takeaway when the gardaí stopped Ms Harten.
“Kim was driving,” he said, pausing to reveal his dogs had broken free at the time which added further tension to an already highly charged situation.
“The dogs got loose in the van and the food was still on my knee,” he said, adding the reasons for his behaviour on the night was largely due to wanting his two pets to go home.
Ms Harten, too, gave evidence and maintained she was at the wheel.
Video footage recorded by Ms Harten from the alleged incident was likewise played to the court in which the she claimed gardaí had told her to 'shut her f****** mouth'.
“I drove in,” said Ms Harten, when recalling how she and Mr Curran entered the estate that night.
“I won’t allow him to drive because if he does he will get a slap in the mouth.”
Ms Harten also admitted to having no licence herself that night and of having no insurance despite the vehicle being registered in her name.
“It was the best of a bad situation,” she said.
“By right, I should be here with the same charges.”
In giving his ruling, Judge Hughes said he had been left in no doubt as to the culpability of the accused, adding he had been “particularly impressed” by both gardaí’s evidence on the day and their response to the situation that confronted them that night.
Before handing down any judgement, the court heard how Mr Curran had been banned from driving for 20 years just a year previously for also driving while disqualified.
Judge Hughes said while he empathised with people like Mr Curran who found themselves in a predicament of perhaps not being able to drive again due to the likely exorbitant insurance costs that befall disqualified drivers, his hands were very much tied.
He consequently banned Mr Curran from driving for 20 years and sentenced him to five months in prison.
A further one month sentence to run consecutively to the five month term was also added for a public order offence at the same address on March 1 2020.
Mr Gearty asked for Mr Curran’s sentence to be deferred for two weeks in order to allow him attend an upcoming family confirmation.
That request was rejected, however, prompting Mr Gearty to seek the fixing of recognisances in the event of an appeal.