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Suspended sentence 'unduly lenient' for Tipperary man jailed for driving van into group of people

Ruaidhrí Giblin

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Ruaidhrí Giblin

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Suspended sentence too lenient for Tipperary man jailed for driving van into group of people

The incident happened in Nenagh, County Tipperary

A man who drove a van into a group of people, knocking one person to the ground before turning to drive at the victim a second time, has been jailed for two years after his wholly suspended sentence was deemed too lenient. 

Robert Maxwell (26), with an address at Yewston, Nenagh, County Tipperary, pleaded guilty to endangerment by driving a van at Simon Ryan knocking him to the ground, driving over him and then turning the vehicle and driving at Mr. Ryan a second time at Yewston Estate in Nenagh between August 6 and 7, 2017. 

He was given a wholly suspended four-year sentence at Tipperary Circuit Criminal Court on June 28, 2019, which was found to be “unduly lenient” on Wednesday by the Court of Appeal. Maxwell was accordingly jailed for two years. 

Giving judgment in the three-judge court, Mr. Justice Brian McGovern said Maxwell was one of a number of people who were behaving “very aggressively” that night towards another group of people. Maxwell, who was intoxicated, also pleaded guilty to three public order matters relating to the events of the night, which were taken into consideration in the overall sentence. 

Mr. Justice McGovern said Maxwell drove a van into a group of people, striking Mr. Ryan and knocking him to the ground. There were various accounts from witnesses suggesting that Maxwell then reversed the van over Mr. Ryan as he lay on the ground or was attempting to do so when bystanders dragged Mr. Ryan away. 

Photos produced to the sentencing court showed in graphic terms the extent of the injuries and how fortunate Mr. Ryan was that his injuries were not greater. He suffered a laceration to the right side of the upper lip, a fracture of the third rib, a fracture of the left clavicle and soft tissue injuries to the right thigh and right ankle, including ligament damage. 

The thought he could have been killed has preyed on Mr Ryan’s mind a great deal since the incident, the judge said. 

The sentencing judge told Maxwell that he could have faced a charge of murder or manslaughter, had the circumstances worked out differently.

Maxwell had 28 previous convictions including a significant number for road traffic offences, and had been disqualified from driving on a number of occasions. 

In mitigation, Maxwell pleaded guilty and had apologised to the injured party, albeit one year after the offence. He came from a home where his parents had split up, and his one-year-old son had died while he was in custody awaiting sentence, which affected him greatly. 

Mr. Justice McGovern said Maxwell’s “sad personal circumstances” were acknowledged by the court, but the decision to suspend his sentence in its entirety was an error in principle and “could not be justified on all the facts”. 

While sending Maxwell to prison would undoubtedly have an effect on his immediate family, Mr. Justice McGovern said this was “true in most cases where someone with a family is sent to prison”, and there were no exceptional circumstances which would permit a non-custodial sentence. 

He said the driving of a car into a group of people “demanded a custodial sentence”. Foremost among the aggravating factors was the nature of Maxwell’s behaviour and the “extreme danger” posed to members of the public, particularly the injured party. 

Furthermore, it could not be overlooked that Maxwell had 28 previous convictions, many of them for road traffic matters which included periods of disqualification from driving. 

Mr. Justice McGovern, who sat with Mr Justice John Edwards and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, quashed the sentence imposed in the Circuit Court and resentenced Maxwell to four years imprisonment with the final two years suspended. 

Maxwell was required to enter into a good behaviour bond for the suspended period, and he undertook to be so bound.