Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Declan Brennan

Closing speeches have begun in the criminal trial of four men accused of taking part in an armed attack on security men guarding a repossessed farm in Co Roscommon five years ago.

At around 5am on December 16th 2018, a group of approximately 30 armed men smashed their way into a house at a recently repossessed rural property at Falsk, just outside Strokestown, Co Roscommon and allegedly attacked four of the security guards present.

Patrick Sweeney (44) of High Cairn, Ramelton, Co Donegal; Martin O’Toole (58) of Stripe, Irishtown, Claremorris, Co Mayo; Paul Beirne (56) of Croghan, Boyle, Co Roscommon and David Lawlor (43) of Bailis Downs, Navan, Co Meath have pleaded not guilty to 17 charges each at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.


Each man is charged with false imprisonment and assault causing harm to four security personnel, aggravated burglary and arson of four vehicles which were set alight.

They are also each charged with criminal damage to the front door of the house, violent disorder, robbery of a wristwatch from one security guard and, finally, causing unnecessary suffering to an animal by causing or permitting an animal to be struck on the head.

On day 38 of the trial, which began last February, prosecuting counsel Anne Rowland SC began her closing speech to the jury.

She told the jury that this was an orchestrated, well-timed and well-organised attack and that everyone involved had two common goals – to get the security guards out of the house and to ensure they didn’t come back.

Ms Rowland reminded the jury of the evidence of the four alleged victims who gave evidence of being terrified and in fear of their lives. She said one security man ran for his life into adjacent fields in the pitch dark with men coming after him while three other men escaped by jumping into a river in the winter night.

She said that the evidence of security guard Ian Gordon was that at around 5am, he saw a tele-handler driving with no lights and smashing through the front gates to the property. She said that a cattle truck then parked up and 30 to 40 armed men, dressed in hi-vis yellow vests, got out.

Ms Rowland said they fanned out around the house and that Mr Beirne admitted to gardai that he had put in the front door using a sledgehammer. She said there was absolute mayhem with men running around shouting, yielding weapons including hatchets, pick axes, sticks with nails hammered into them, a chain saw, and possibly an angle grinder.

Mr Gordon testified that a man put a gun to his head and ordered him to crawl on the ground and eat the faeces of Mr Gordon’s guard dog that had lost control of it’s bowels. The dog had been beaten around the head with a baseball bat and later died from its injuries.

She said a number of security men described grown men repeatedly jumping on their body and legs. Johnny Graham said he was attacked with a meat cleaver and hit with a hurley, baseball bat and sticks before someone doused his legs with petrol.

Terrifying atmosphere

Ms Rowland told jurors that all the vehicles in the farmyard were set alight and “there was a terrifying atmosphere”.

She said the evidence of the witnesses and from footage allegedly recorded on a body camera of Mark Rissen showed that the attackers were “bent on violence and on domination…and high on adrenaline”.

She said evidence of Michael Kane, who had run into the fields to hide, was that when he came back “it was like looking into the gates of hell” and that he expected to find corpses.

The trial continues before Judge Martina Baxter and a jury.

Ms Rowland told the jury that the State’s case is mainly based on circumstantial evidence which is evidence from which certain deductions can be made. She said that in the prosecution of Catherine Nevin for murder, the Court of Appeal ruled the prosecution is perfectly entitled to rely on any piece of evidence which is suspicious or appears uncanny.

She said there is direct evidence against Mr Sweeney and Mr O’Toole in the form of video footage of the events of the night from a body-cam worn by a security guard. She said the State’s case is that these two defendants can be seen on the footage committing some of the offences, and they are identified on the footage.

Ms Rowland said the case against the four men is prosecuted on the basis of joint enterprise, also known as common design. She said is a legal principle whereby if two or more people get together and plan to carry out a common criminal purpose then each of them is liable for acts done by the others in pursuit of that purpose.

She said the State’s case is that a large group of men decided they were going to go to Falsk in the early hours of the morning and armed with different weapons; that they were going to go into the property and get rid of security men who were there, and they were going, as far as they could, make certain those men did not return.

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