Friday, November 04, 2022

By Declan Brennan and Eimear Dodd

A builder who tried to get a woman into his car late at night by pretending to be a garda before intimidating her and assaulting her husband has been sentenced to three years in prison.

Declan McGowan (33) was found guilty following a trial last March of attempted coercion, impersonating a member of An Garda Síochána, assault and assault causing harm at Kimmage Road Lower, Dublin, in the early hours of September 18th, 2021.

McGowan, of Branswood, Athy, Co Kildare, had pleaded not guilty to all counts but told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court in October that he accepts the jury’s verdicts.

He has 31 previous convictions, including three counts for making threats to kill and two for assault causing harm. McGowan also has one District Court conviction for impersonating a member of An Garda Síochána on July 1st, 2019.

In this case, Judge Patricia Ryan said that the aggravating factors were the accused’s previous conviction for impersonating a garda and the adverse effects this has had on both injured parties.

Judge Ryan said the mitigating factors were the tragic loss of the accused partner, the reports and letters handed into court and the personal circumstance of the accused. She sentenced McGowan to three years in prison which she backdated from when he went into custody.

Garda Aaron Webb told John Moher BL, prosecuting, that Andra Calauz gave evidence during the trial that she stepped outside to have a cigarette following an argument with her husband. She was on the phone with her husband, who was in their nearby home, when a car pulled up.

McGowan told her he was a garda and showed her something on his phone, which Ms Calauz took as official identification. The accused started to pay her compliments and told her she was beautiful.

Gda Webb said Ms Calauz engaged in conversation with McGowan as she thought he was a garda.

The trial heard he also took her hand, kissed it and hugged her. McGowan asked her to get into the car and said he would take her to a garda station. He also told Ms Calauz that he would contact Tusla to arrange for her children to be taken into care.’

‘Dangerous man’

Ms Calauz gave evidence that she felt frightened and pressurised by McGowan as he asked her several times to get into his car.

Her husband, Daniel Ion, gave evidence during the trial that McGowan started choking him with one hand when he arrived on the scene. He said McGowan was shouting at him to go back inside to his children, or he would call Tusla, and they would be taken away.

He said McGowan was “screaming” at his wife to get into the car. He said he felt at the time that McGowan was either a corrupt cop or “a dangerous man”.

Gda Webb told the sentencing hearing that McGowan told the couple that he would get a gun from his car to show them he was a garda. He said he was a “special agent” and “not a normal garda”.

Mr Ion said he told McGowan two or three times to let his wife go and told his wife in Romanian that she should not get into the car.

He then called gardaí, who arrived within minutes and arrested McGowan.

Gda Webb said McGowan also put his number in Ms Calauz’s phone and made a call to his phone during the incident.

After his arrest, McGowan denied the assault charges and said he offered the woman a lift, which was refused. He denied impersonating a garda.

McGowan told gardaí at interview that when Mr Ion arrived on the scene, he struck his wife in the face. The accused said he had put his number in Ms Calauz’s phone to send her the details of Women’s Aid.

McGowan admitted to gardaí that he had a wheel brace in the car.

He denied ever kissing or hugging the woman and said she was lying.

Victim impact statements written by Ms Calauz and Mr Ion were read to the court by Mr Moher.

In her victim impact statement, Ms Calauz said she has been unable to go out alone since this incident. She said she used to be active with her children and is scared that she is now missing out. She said the family have also tried unsuccessfully to move home since this incident.

Leaving a job

Mr Ion said he suffered bruising to his neck and could not eat for the next two days. He said he had to leave his job following these events, as his wife did not feel safe when alone with their children. He said his relationship with his wife was also affected.

Mr Ion said McGowan’s claims that he was a bad husband and father had also impacted him. He said McGowan had not apologised for these “lies” and the impact on the family.

Gda Webb agreed with Garnet Orange SC, defending, that McGowan had made bizarre comments at interview, which were suggestive of someone in the “throes of a cocaine binge”. McGowan also told gardaí that his partner had died in tragic circumstances.

Gda Webb accepted Mr Orange’s statement that this incident lasted around 15 minutes and had taken place on a public road near housing.

McGowan also gave evidence on his own behalf. He said his drug use had been casual but escalated following the death of his partner. McGowan told the court that going into custody has “saved” his life.

McGowan told Mr Maher in cross-examination that he was not taking cocaine in July 2019, when he previously pretended to be a garda.

Mr Orange said the death of McGowan’s partner had led to a “catastrophic spiral”, and his client’s behaviour was influenced by his drug use at the time.

Mr Orange said the events of that night were a “bizarre incident” which appeared to have “dark overtones” but could also be seen as “serious misplaced chivalry” on McGowan’s part.

Psychological and medical reports were handed into the court on behalf of McGowan alongside a handwritten letter.

Mr Orange said his client has shown the potential for rehabilitation and is anxious to finish his time in custody and become a “useful member of society” again.

Judge Ryan noted that McGowan had pretended to be a garda on several occasions.

McGowan told Judge Ryan that this offence occurred at the time of a family feud where he had shouted he was a garda out of a car window.

Judge Ryan said McGowan “cannot have it both ways” and say he accepts the jury verdict but that his actions were the result of “misplaced chivalry”.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact Women’s Aid (24-hour freephone helpline at 1800 341 900, email [email protected]) or Men’s Aid Ireland (confidential helpline at 01 554 3811, email [email protected]) for support and information. 

Safe Ireland also outlines a number of local services and helplines at safeireland.ie/get-help/where-to-find-help/. In the case of an emergency, always dial 999/112. 

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