Tipperary man jailed for warning teenager to keep his mouth shut
A 47-year-old Clonmel, County Tipperary, man related to two men facing a criminal prosecution told the 16-year-old injured party in the case to keep his mouth shut or he would kill him, Clonmel Circuit Criminal Court was told.
The threat was issued by father-of-three John Anthony Burns of 47 Queen Street, Clonmel, who received a four year prison term at the Circuit Court's latest session with the final three years suspended for the coercion of the youth at Mary Street, Clonmel on May 28 last year. Burns pleaded guilty to the offence.
Det. Sgt. David Buckley told the court that the youth, whom he called Mr A, was walking on Mary Street in the company of two friends.
They stopped to speak to someone sitting in a parked car. Due to the traffic in the area, the person in the car had to move the vehicle to another location so the complainant and his two friends walked in the direction of the car.
A black Toyota Yaris stopped in the middle of the street. John Anthony Burns got out and threatened Mr A. He told him to keep his mouth shut or he would kill him. He also told A to stop looking at him and not to be recording him. Burns then got into his car and left. The incident was captured on CCTV at Planet Spice Restaurant.
Det. Sgt. Buckley said he believed there was a motive behind this interaction. At the time Mr A was a complainant in an ongoing trial before the circuit court that involved John Anthony Burns' brother Gabriel (Gay) Burns and his nephew Dwaine O'Donnell. The court case was finalised on May 15 this year with both accused men pleading guilty to the charges against them.
The detective read the youth's victim impact statement to the court. In it, Mr A described how his sleep was badly affected by this incident and he was fearful for himself and his family. It affected his attendance in school and he was scared to leave his home. He had thought of pulling out of the court case (involving John Anthony Burns' two relatives).
Mr A said the incident would affect him for the rest of his life. He was jumpy and could never relax and was thinking of leaving Clonmel when he finished school. He wanted to start off somewhere else where no-one knew him.
Det. Sgt Buckley said Burns was arrested on May 29 last year. In his interviews with gardai, he admitted being on Mary Street and driving the Toyota Yaris but claimed Mr A stuck his tongue out at him.
Burns told gardai he stopped the car and confronted the youth about this and about previously sticking up his finger at him. Mr A denied making these gestures while Burns denied threatening the youth. The CCTV footage confirmed there was interaction between the two parties but there was nothing that confirmed the threat Burns made.
Det. Sgt Buckley said Burns had 18 previous convictions, the most recent were recorded in December 2012 for driving without a licence and a conviction for committing affray in September that year. He also had convictions for criminal damage, threatening to damage property, breach of a Safety Order, assault and drink driving.
Defence barrister Edward O'Mahony submitted that Mr A and his friends moved out of the CCTV camera frame just before Burns car stopped on the street. He asked Det. Sgt Buckley if he was able to confirm or deny that Mr A made a gesture to his client. The detective replied that all he could confirm was what was visible on the camera.
The barrister also showed the court a social media post making derogatory remarks about his client's family that appeared to have been "liked" by Mr A. The post appeared to be from Mr A's mother. Det. Sgt. Buckley said he couldn't confirm she was the author.
The barrister asked Det. Sgt. Buckley in view of these posts had he anything to say in relation to Mr A's fear of the Burns family.
Det. Sgt. Buckley said from speaking to his client before the court hearing, he believed he was in fear and he wasn't going to comment any further as he didn't know who made those social media posts.
Mr O'Mahony put it to the detective that his client's relationship with his wider family wasn't close. Det. Sgt. Buckley replied that he believed the defendant had a very close relationship to the rest of the Burns family.
The barrister said his client had very little to do with the criminality other members of his family were involved in. He noted that his client's last previous conviction was six years ago. Alongside this, his client had no role either as a witness or suspect in the prosecution involving his brother and nephew. His client felt it was wrong that he should be held accountable for his relatives actions.
Mr O'Mahony said his client accepted he acted in an "irrational way" and "very badly". He uttered the words "shut up" to Mr A in the context of gestures the youth made at him. His client made no mention of the trial to Mr A.
"He accepts that what he said would create a certain level of fear but he insists he would never act on those threats. He was frustrated by the gesture."
Mr O'Mahony asked the court to take into account the Facebook comments he brought to its attention and argued they called into question the level of fear felt by Mr A.
He pointed out that a letter of apology was issued to the victim. His client also gave an undertaking that the youth had nothing to fear from him in the future.
The barrister outlined that Burns had a difficult childhood and a poor employment history. He had dedicated a lot of time to helping a close family member with an alcohol addiction problem. He also looked after his two and a half year old child as his partner was a full-time carer of her mother. Mr O'Mahony handed in a letter to the court from his client's employer where he worked part-time.
Imposing sentence, Judge Teehan said Mr A bravely reported the two men who behaved in an "appalling way" towards him and also had the bravery to make a complaint in relation to this matter.
He was satisfied Mr A was "very badly affected" by what happened him and this incident compounded the situation.
He regarded coercion where someone is to give evidence in a criminal trial as a very serious matter but he noted Burns had pleaded guilty and acknowledged he behaved wrongly. Judge Teehan suspended the last three years of the four year prison sentence on condition Burns kept the peace during that time. He agreed to grant legal aid in the event of appeal.