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22 May 2022

Longford man left prisoner in own home after 'brutal and stomach-churning' knife attack, court is told

Judge Keenan Johnston

Circuit Court Judge Keenan Johnson

A man who sustained multiple stab wounds in a "brutal and stomach-churning" feud related attack in Longford town three years ago has told of how the incident has effectively left him a prisoner in his own home.

Daniel Lawrence was airlifted to Tallaght Hospital after being set upon outside Aldi, Longford Retail Park, Townspark, Athlone Road, Longford on April 1, 2019.

Siblings Kevin Stokes Jnr (29) and Chantelle Stokes (20), both of Lisnanagh, Edgeworthstown both pleaded guilty to Section 3 assault causing harm as a result of the incident.

The court heard gardai were called to the scene shortly after 2pm where they found Mr Lawrence with an open wound to the right side of his head along with lacerations to his ear, forearm, upper arm as well as a deep laceration to his torso.

State counsel Shane Geraghty BL, said the incident stemmed from a lingering sense of dissatisfaction the Stokes family harboured in relation to Mr Lawrence entering into a relationship with Kate Stokes, a sister of both of the accused.

The court was told Mr Lawrence had given change to his partner for a trolley when the defendants' mother, Margaret Stokes approached, shouting at her daughter: 'You've some cheek pulling your father on stories'.

It was at that stage, it was revealed Ms Stokes slapped her daughter across the face, leading Mr Lawrence to shout: 'Don't touch her'.

Seconds later, Mr Geraghty said Chantelle Stokes produced a can of deodorant, spraying Mr Lawrence in the face as Mr Stokes Jnr proceeded to assault Mr Lawrence.

The victim was airlifted to hospital and was later referred to St James' Hospital in Dublin for plastic surgery.

The court also heard Mr Stokes Jnr who it was revealed in court had been the "knife man" on the day, had been on bail at the time of the offence, having been sentenced to a two year prison term, suspended for five years in May 2016 for an unrelated Section 3 assault charge.

It also emerged the father of two who was charged in September 2019 later fled the jurisdiction before returning to Ireland and surrendering himself in August 2021 where he was placed into custody.

The court was further told Chantelle Stokes, aged 17 at the time of the incident was put forward as a “patsy” to take the bulk of the blame for any ensuing charges that may follow.

Judge Johnson said the revelation was one he found hard to fathom.

“It's an extraordinary state of affairs where a mother would stand over a daughter to make admissions of knifing somebody which she clearly didn't do,” he said.

In the witness box, Detective Sergeant Keelan Brennan disagreed with assertions put to him that the incident resulted out of a feud between two rivalling families which threatened to get out of control.

Instead, the long serving garda said the episode sparked a number of unsavoury incidents thereafter including three suspected arson attacks on vehicles parked outside members of the Lawrence family.

Asked if there was ill feeling between both families now, Detective Sgt Brennan agreed, suggesting an offer of mediation was all but futile at this stage.

“There is obvious tensions,” he said.

“I think it's gone beyond that (mediation) and I think it would be very difficult for the two families to ever reconcile.”

In a victim impact statement, Mr Lawrence said the incident had left him in constant fear.

"I have never been the same mentally since the attack," he said, revealing the episode had caused him untold stress and physiological trauma.

"I was a very confident person up until the attack. Now I look in the mirror and I don't want to go out.

"These scars will always remind me of that brutal, vicious attack."

Mr Lawrence said the repercussions from the attacks have had far reaching effects on his own immediate family.

“I have the worry of my mother visiting me every day, checking on me to see if I am all right.

“This has had a big impact on her, my family and my partner.”

The 31-year-old Longford man also told of how the psychological effects of the incident have caused untold strain on his relationship with his future wife.

“We were getting married and we had a date set, but I keep putting the wedding on hold as I cannot cope,” he said.

“It's hard on my girlfriend as I feel safer indoors.”

The court heard how both defendants had written letters of apology to Mr Lawrence, both of which the victim and his family rejected as insincere.

In a letter read out by Chantelle Stokes, she said there was no calculated planning on her part for what unfolded.

“I wrote this letter to say sorry,” she said.

“I never set out that day to do anything. I was annoyed at you for taking Kate away from us.

“I want to say sorry to you and to Kate. I miss her.”

Ms Stokes' defence counsel, John Shortt SC, asked the court to seek a probation and welfare report, saying the now 20-year-old was “effectively a child” at the time of the offence.

He said the saga was a “sad reflection” on Longford town given that it took place in broad daylight and in front of members of the public.

He said her desire to pursue a career in childcare was commendable and indicative of someone who wished to steer clear of trouble going forward.

“She is trying to put this phase of her life behind her,” he said.

“I submit she can go on and be a contributing member to society.”

Defence counsel for Mr Stokes, Niall Flynn BL, read out a letter written to Mr Lawrence on behalf of his client.

In it, Mr Stokes expressed desire to consign the events of April 1, 2019 to the past in the hope both families could, at some stage, put their differences behind them.

“It should never have happened,” he said.

“At the end of the day, we are family.

“You are with my sister and I now realise there are no winners in family feuds.

“All I can do is apologise.”

Mr Stokes said he was aware of the likely judicial sanction which his actions on the day would likely bring, adding: “I have learnt the hard way from my mistakes.”

Mr Flynn, in putting forward a lengthy submission of mitigation to the court, said there was little he could say to dilute the seriousness of what ultimately occurred.

He did, nonetheless, contend the incident was in no way premeditated but rather a “spontaneous” occurrence that quickly spilled out of control.

He said Mr Stokes' decision to go forward to the circuit court on a signed guilty plea had, in no small way, aided the State in following through with the case.

Mr Flynn said while his client's lengthy list of previous convictions made for “horrendous reading” he was a man and a father who had already spent considerable time in custody away from his partner and two young children.

“He does accept he was the knife man and he should receive significant credit for coming forward on a signed guilty plea despite whether the court may find that self serving,” he said.

Mr Flynn added that while Mr Stokes was acceptive of a likely custodial sentence, it was imperative the court afforded him “light at the end of the tunnel”

“Like an earlier admission on behalf of Mr Lawrence, Judge Keenan Johnson said he too took a "very jaundiced" view of both defendants' apologies, describing the incident as "savage, brutal and stomach-churning".

He said: "I am absolutely satisfied it's (incident) ,at the zenith of a section 3 assault and would certainly qualify as a section 4 assault.”

He remanded Mr Stokes Jnr in custody and Ms Stokes on continuing bail until a sitting of Longford Circuit Criminal Court on February 2 for sentencing.

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