Court of Appeal, Dublin
A father-of-three has won his appeal against sentence for an unprovoked and vicious attack on a passer-by in Tipperary almost four years ago.
The Court of Appeal reduced the jail sentence of Ian O’Sullivan, who has 18 previous convictions, from eight years to a term of five years. The now 32-year-old was one of three males who attacked Thomas Lonergan as he walked home along Thomas Street, Clonmel in the very early hours of 26th February 2017.
The victim recalled that he could hear O'Sullivan "laughing while his friends shouted at him to stop, that he was going to kill me". Mr Lonergan said he drifted in and out of consciousness as "blood poured from my eyes, ears, mouth and nose”.
The victim said that O'Sullivan "seemed to enjoy it in some sick way" and said his family had to move out of town for fear of another attack or reprisals.
In returning judgement, Mr Justice John Edwards today (THURSDAY) said the Court of Appeal noted that "little or no guidance" is provided to sentencing judges on how to rank offences of robbery.
O’Sullivan of Hillview, Clerihan in the town had pleaded guilty at Tipperary Circuit Criminal Court to a single count of robbery.
The court heard that Mr Lonergan was punched when he refused to hand over money to one of the attackers. He tried to run away but was caught by the attackers, who proceeded to kick and punch him repeatedly while demanding his phone and money.
One of the other attackers had to pull O’Sullivan away after he continued to kick Mr Lonergan repeatedly while he was on the ground, and after he had handed over everything in his pockets.
O’Sullivan was identified from CCTV footage. He had 18 previous convictions, including for assault causing harm and possession of a knife.
Judge Thomas Teehan sentenced him to 12 years in prison, with the final four suspended. A compensation order was also made in the sum of €2,000.
O’Sullivan appealed against the severity of his sentence to the Court of Appeal on Tuesday.
His barrister, John O’Dwyer BL, submitted that the headline sentence imposed was too high.
“It is abundantly clear that he perpetrated a prolonged and vicious assault on Mr Lonergan, which had a profound effect on his life,” he said.
“Notwithstanding that Mr Lonergan was the innocent victim of a brutal and unprovoked attack, we submit that the sentence was too high,” said counsel, pointing to previous cases dealt with by the courts.
Justice John Edwards, who presided with Justice Patrick McCarthy and Justice Aileen Donnelly, delivered a judgment this (Thursday) morning.
He said that one of the problems with robbery, which attracts penalties ranging from non-custodial to life in prison, was that little or no guidance is provided to sentencing judges as to how to rank it.
He also said that, to date, there was no ‘formal’ guideline judgment of the Irish appellate courts on robbery.
Justice Edwards noted that O’Sullivan’s particular offence was a ‘serious instance of robbery, involving significant culpability and the causing of appreciable harm’.
However, he said that the court was satisfied that it was not one where the headline sentence fell into the high range, attracting a sentence of between 10 and 15 years.
It had no hesitation in concluding that the headline sentence in this case was excessive and disproportionate, he said.
It was the court’s view that it fell into the upper half of the mid-range, he added, explaining that no weapon was brought to the scene, and the attack was ‘essentially spontaneous’.
“The attack, although extremely violent and such as to cause appreciable harm, both physical and psychological, to the victim, did not inflict serious harm or life threatening injuries,” continued the judge.
He said that the court did not seek to minimise the horror and trauma of this attack from the victim’s perspective.
“It was a dreadful offence to be utterly deprecated, and we do so unhesitatingly,” he said.
He explained that the court merely wished to differentiate this case from even more serious robberies.
“We must quash the sentence,” he said.
The court re-sentenced O’Sullivan to six years in prison, before suspending the final year on a number of conditions.
The compensation order was not changed.