‘I owe Garda O’Connor my life’ assault victim tells Longford Circuit Court

Traumatic assault: Gardaí arrived just in time to stop abusive partner from choking victim to death

Jessica Thompson

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Jessica Thompson

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jessica.thompson@longfordleader.ie

‘I owe Garda O’Connor my life’ assault victim tells Longford Circuit Court

A man charged with serious violent assault on his former partner has had his case adjourned to the October sittings of Longford Circuit Court and will face a lengthy suspended prison sentence if a positive probation report is furnished to the court on that date, or a custodial sentence if the report is negative.

Brendan Kelleher (33) of Drumlish Hill, Drumlish, Co Longford has also been ordered to have €5,000 in court on that day by way of compensation to the victim. He paid €2,000 to the court last week.

Judge Keenan Johnson, however, made it clear that the money offered to the victim was “by no means a way of buying himself out of trouble” and stated that no amount of compensation would put right the trauma suffered by his victim.

Gda Shane O’Connor told Longford Circuit court last week that on September 9, 2019, he and Gda Joe Joyce were on duty in a patrol car when they received a call from the garda dispatcher regarding a domestic violence incident at a house on the Battery Road.

When gardaí arrived at the property, the court heard that the door was ajar by five or ten inches. Gardaí entered the house and called ‘hello, hello, gardaí here’.

The house, Gda O’Connor explained, was an attached bungalow, with a hallway of two bedrooms to the left and two to the right, and an openplan kitchenette at the back.

“As we came to the kitchenette, I could hear the faint cry of a female. It sounded like a person trying to scream but restricted by a hand on their mouth - a forced cry,” Gda O’Connor told the court.

“It was behind a closed bedroom door. I went to the door. When we opened it, there was a bed facing the door and we saw the back of a man. He had a female pinned to the bed with one hand gripped to her neck and the other over her mouth.

“Straight away, myself and Gda Joyce pulled the male off and pushed him back into the hallway. Gda Joyce went to deal with the male and I dealt with the female.

“She was extremely distressed. She wasn’t able to talk or even get her breath. She was struggling to come round and was in an extreme state of shock.”

The court heard that the victim’s throat was marked with finger prints consistent with a tight grip and her face was marked, consistent with violence. Gda O’Connor encouraged her to go to hospital but she refused to receive medical attention.

Addressing statements in the book of evidence, Shane Geraghty BL, prosecuting, noted that gardaí could smell alcohol on Mr Kelleher and proceeded to arrest and caution him for the assault. He was conveyed to Longford Garda Station where he was charged.

Mr Kelleher had been drinking on the day of the incident and the court heard that, when his former partner had tried to leave the house to do some laundry at the nearby filling station, he became argumentative and she received a punch to the arm and to the side of the head.

“She told him to get out or she’d ring his father and the guards and he thought she was joking,” Mr Geraghty said, referring to the book of evidence.

“He said ‘you won’t ring the guards because you know I’ll be able to kill you, me around or not’. She rang the gardaí at 5.56pm. She rang on two occasions. The gardaí rang back and asked her to go to the door.”

Gda O’Connor confirmed that this was the case, stating that he and Gda Joyce were unable to find the address the first time.

The woman went to the door and opened it but Mr Kelleher grabbed her by the hair and dragged her along the floor into the bedroom, where he proceeded to choke her on the bed.

“What do you know about Mr Kelleher?” Mr Geraghty asked.

“I’ve known him from my time in Longford. I’ve come in contact with him regarding domestic incidents. Alcohol seems to be the main driver of a lot of his issues,” said Gda O’Connor.

Mr Kelleher had previously been convicted of breaching a barring order against the woman in February 2015, the court heard.

Niall Flynn BL, for the defence, put it to Gda O’Connor that the incident occurred in a short space of time, asking “would that be fair to say?”

“That would be fair to say but a matter of minutes can be catastrophic,” Gda O’Connor replied.

“It seems you arrived at the right time, fortunately for the injured party but also for Mr Kelleher who could have been facing far more serious charges,” said Judge Johnson.

Mr Flynn noted that Mr Kelleher’s previous convictions, including the theft of two bottles of wine in February of last year, stemmed from an alcohol addiction and that, subsequent to that conviction last year, he had received treatment at Cuan Mhuire addiction treatment services.

“He’s present in court today with his new partner and his mother. None of his immediate family have ever caused difficulties for gardaí. He’s the black sheep in the family,” said Mr Flynn.

“He’s now 33 years old. He struck up a relationship with (the injured party) when both were in a treatment centre. They had a child who is in the custody of Mr Kelleher’s parents.”

The accused also made a plea of guilty at the earliest convenience, Mr Flynn added, “which saved the victim the trauma and ordeal of witness evidence”.

“There is a sum of money available for the injured party if she agrees to receive it,” he said, referring to the €2,000.

In a powerful victim impact statement, the injured party told the court of how she owed her life to Gda O’Connor.

“I feared this man who is father to my wonderful daughter. You promised me everything and gave me nothing,” the emotional victim read from her statement.

“If hadn’t left the door ajar, I wouldn’t be here today. I owe Gda O’Connor my life. A few minutes later and I fear he’d have been facing a tragic scene.”

She told of how she still breaks out in a sweat when coming to Longford, telling the accused, “I despise you for that”.

The woman then addressed the fact that Mr Kelleher had sent her a letter as a form of apology, the contents of which she said were lies and “disgusting”.

She particularly referred to a line in the letter, which read “if I hurt you” and said, “you couldn’t even admit your wrong doing when you pleaded guilty”.

“You dare to guilt trip me about my daughter when I have visions of my daughter standing over my grave asking what happened to mammy.”

The woman told the court that she was now in a loving relationship and had recently given birth to twins but that she locks the doors when alone and feels fear every time she hears a car.

“I’ve had my partner wake me up at night because of screaming because of nightmares of what you did,” she said.

“You have absolutely no idea of the damage you’ve done to me. Please save your apologies because they’re watered down.”

Judge Johnson thanked the victim for coming to court and for delivering such a powerful statement. He congratulated her on the birth of her twins and wished her well.

“You were the victim of a very serious assault and I hope after today you can move on with your life,” he said.

When Mr Kelleher was called to the witness box, he said that he was ashamed of himself for what he did.

“I’m genuinely sorry it happened. It will never happen again,” he said when questioned by Mr Flynn.

“Well it seems to have taken an awful long time for the penny to drop,” said Judge Johnson.

“According to the probation report, you didn’t seem to think she was affected. You wrote about ‘if’ you hurt her. You profoundly hurt her - physically and mentally,” he added.

“Do you accept that this was a cowardly action?” Mr Flynn asked.

“Yes. I’m ashamed to sit here and say I done that,” said Mr Kelleher.

“How would you feel if it had happened to you?” Mr Flynn asked.

“Terrified,” said Mr Kelleher.

“So you accept she was terrified,” said Mr Flynn, to which Mr Kelleher replied yes, “but you told the probation officer she wouldn’t have been affected.”

“Of course she must be affected,” said Mr Kelleher.

Judge Johnson noted that the report was dated January 2021, “so that’s the attitude you had four weeks ago”.

“I misunderstood the question,” said Mr Kelleher.

“No you did not,” said Judge Johnson.

“Well that’s your opinion,” Mr Kelleher replied.

“You did not show remorse or empathy for your actions,” said Judge Johnson.

“I’m sitting here today, I’ve turned my life around,” Mr Kelleher replied.

“You have not shown proper empathy or respect or sorrow for what you’ve done. How do you explain to your daughter what you did to her mother?” said the judge.

The court heard that Mr Kelleher has been engaging with after treatment every Tuesday evening to address his addiction. He has also been in a new relationship for six months and is “happy and healthy”.

“This was a very, very traumatic and serious assault set against a background where the accused was drinking,” said Judge Johnson.

“It was fortunate that Gda O’Connor arrived when he did. One shudders to think what might have hapened if he had not arived when he did and rescued her.

“This was clearly a very violent assault and it is abundantly obvious that the victim is extremely traumatised and carries that with her today. I’m delighted to note she has found happiness and I hope the future is bright for her.”

Judge Johnson noted that the accused had worked hard to turn his life around and developed a strong bond with his daughter but said that the probation officer had put him at a high to moderate risk of reoffending and that the only way to improve that was to abstain from alcohol.

“No compensation will compensate what happened. I’m going to direct that the €2,000 be given to the victim but it merely tokenistic,” he said, adjourning the sentencing to October 5, 2021, and ordering that a further €5,000 be paid on that date.

Mr Kelleher must also engage with the probation officer and a report is to be furnished to the court on that date. Judge Johnson indicated that he will hand down a two and a half year sentence but will suspend it for a period of ten years if the probation report is positive.

“The keys to prison are in your own hands, Mr Kelleher. If the matter comes back, I’ll revoke bail and you’ll go to jail.”