A man who held five members of the board of management at a Longford town primary school hostage and committed an armed robbery has told the court of his addiction issues which he said began at the age of 12.
James Cranny, 14 Meadowcrest, Boyle, Co Roscommon, appeared before Judge Keenan Johnson at Longford District Court where he read out five letters of apology to the victims of his actions in August 2020.
The court heard that the man had consumed a significant amount of intoxicants before carrying out an armed robbery at the school, including whiskey, 38 sleeping tablets, 40 valium tablets and heroin.
He then entered the school staff room and threatened all five present with a screwdriver, before making his escape with a quantity of cash. He was arrested by gardaí a short time later but was too intoxicated to make a statement until the following morning.
Mr Cranny said that he could not recall how he got to the school but entered an early plea of guilty and, in response to the charges, stated that he wanted to waive his right to a book of evidence because “those people shouldn't have been put through that”.
The court heard that Mr Cranny had received help for his addiction issues on a number of occasions, availing of 27 counselling sessions between January 2019 and December 2020, as well as availing of the HSE drugs services 11 times between February 2020 and August 2020.
Addressing the court, Mr Cranny said that he will “forever regret” what he had done on August 27, 2020.
“I’m truly sorry. I never meant to harm anybody. I can’t imagine what you’ve been through,” he told the two victims who were present in court.
“I just hope you’ll be able to move on with your lives. I’m sorry.”
Mr Cranny had written individual letters to the five victims, which he read out in court last week.
In them, he explained that not being able to remember that day was “no excuse” for his actions, which were carried out against “volunteers helping innocent kids get back to school”.
He referred to his crimes as “a meaningless act” and said he was “disgusted” with himself for what he had done.
The court heard that Mr Cranny had a difficult upbringing. His mother had abandoned him, his brother and his father, and he was raised by his paternal grandmother. His father had spent significant stretches in prison due to addiction.
Mr Cranny had left school in third or fourth class and started working as a labourer on a construction site at the age of 14.
Poverty was a big issue in his life, the court heard, and he didn’t have a lot. He started to smoke cannabis and drink alcohol at the age of 12 and spent some time in St Michael’s Detention Centre for not going to school.
At the age of 14, he ran away from home and started using heroin, the court heard. He overdosed at a young age.
In September 1998, at the age of 16, he received a one year sentence in St Patrick’s juvenile prison. His life since then has been spend in and out of prison, with at least four stints between 1998 and 2002.
Mr Cranny explained to the court that he had access to drugs while in prison - especially while in Mountjoy.
“To feed your addiction, you went out and robbed and stole to get drugs,” said Niall Flynn, counsel for the defence.
“Yes, to feed my addiction,” Mr Cranny confirmed.
“In Mountjoy, there were four, five, sometimes six of us to a cell. We had to slop out in front of each other. We did drugs all day, every day. To get through the day, we all took drugs. We were smoking heroin and taking tablets.”
In 2006, he was sentenced to two years in Wheatfield prison.
“That was the same as Mountjoy. We were taking drugs every day,” said Mr Cranny.
“I go in, do my time, get out, steal again, go in again, get out, and steal again.”
Things took a turn for the better when Mr Cranny got together with his former partner, who was in attendance in court last week to support him.
Mr Cranny had three half siblings who all died due to drugs and when his grandmother died in 2007, it hit him quite hard. However, he told the court that his former partner made him want to get off drugs and, for a time, he was drug free.
However, some time last year, he relapsed “for the first time in a long time” and would do “70 to 80 tablets at a time”.
Judge Johnson told the court that he would be taking time to deliberate before sentencing Mr Cranny.
“I accept in this world that all children should be born equal but some are born more equal than others,” said Judge Johnson.
“You’re not an inherently bad person but you made a very bad decision. You’re an inherently intelligent person with plenty of ability. You haven’t had an education that would help you to avoid pitfalls.
“This was a very serious offence on a very vulnerable set of victims. Boards of management are the unsung heroes of our education system and this is aggravated by the fact they were working in such difficult times to make the school safe. To be subjected to this violence is appalling.”
Mr Cranny will reappear on Thursday, March 4, for sentencing and has been remanded in custody until then.