A taxi driver who sexually assaulted a late night passenger after she passed out in his car has been jailed for four years.
The victim told gardaí that she woke up to find Gerard Gunnery Snr (60) with his hand inside her and masturbating himself. He then became aggressive and threw her out of the car, leaving her in a heap on the side of the road.
Gunnery Snr of Ellenfield Road, Whitehall, Dublin pleaded guilty to sexual assaulting the woman in Dublin city on December 23, 2017. Evidence was originally heard in the case last November and Gunnery was then remanded in custody.
On Friday, Judge Karen O'Connor commended the courage of the injured party and noted her powerful victim impact statement which outlined the profound effect the offending had on her and how she continues to live with the “devastating” impact of Gunnery's behaviour.
She said the offending had been a massive breach of trust in his role as a taxi driver. She said holders of public service vehicle licences had certain responsibilities and these had been breached.
Judge O'Connor said the woman had been taken advantage of when she was vulnerable. She noted when the victim questioned Gunnery's behaviour she was dragged from the vehicle and left on the side of the road but still managed to take a picture of his registration plate.
Judge O'Connor took into account Gunnery's age, health, testimonials and previous good character.
She noted he was now a registered sex offender and that incarceration would be particularly difficult for someone of his age in these times with lack of visitation rights but said a custodial sentence could not be avoided.
Judge O'Connor imposed a four and a half year sentence with the final six months suspended.
At the hearing last November the victim addressed the court and said that a regular girls’ night out in town turned into a nightmare when she woke up in the front seat of the taxi parked outside her home.
Neighbours later told gardaí they heard a woman shouting “get off me” and “stop, don't touch me” and saw the driver pulling the woman out of the taxi. She was screaming that her leg was stuck under the taxi and he came out and “threw her out of the way”.
She was found on the ground crying and screaming. The court heard she suffered bruising to her elbows, kneecaps and her jaw.
Gunnery made a statement to gardaí claiming that the woman had told him to “go for it” and that he wouldn't have touched her if she hadn't said that.
“I am really sorry. She was drunk. I was sober,” he told gardaí.
In her victim impact statement the woman told Gunnery that “you took advantage of me when you should have taken me home”.
She said she suffered crippling guilt and shame and entertained thoughts like “I drank too much, my skirt was too short, my knee high boots were too inviting”.
She feared that her attacker was still out driving a taxi and knew whereabouts she lived and said she still suffers flashbacks and becomes upset if she sees a silver coloured taxi. She said Christmas time last year is difficult because of her fear of drinking and being “in town” again.
Lawyers for Gunnery asked Judge O'Connor not define him for these “ten minutes of a life” which was otherwise “all of good”.
Dominic McGinn SC, defending, said his client's actions that night were “completely out of character”. He handed in testimonials describing Gunnery as a hard working, “good man” with a “kind heart”.
Mr McGinn told the court that Gunnery has “not fared well” during the last two months in custody. The court heard Gunnery was the victim of an attack by a fellow inmate and underwent surgery on a cancerous growth on his face.
He said his client had also had “significant difficultly” accessing medical care.
The court previously heard that since details of Gunnery's offending were published, his son has been threatened and had his car vandalised. Judge O'Connor asked that any publicity should distinguish between Gunnery Snr and his son.
Detective Sergeant Brian Hunt told Eoin Lawlor BL, prosecuting, that the woman had gone out that night to a hen party and at around 3am she decided to go home.
She was standing around Harcourt Street in Dublin city centre when Gunnery stopped his taxi. He had two other women in the car and they were going in the same direction as the victim.
She later told gardaí that she was so relieved to get the taxi that she didn't care there were two others in the car.
Mr Lawlor told the court that CCTV footage from the area showed there were other taxis with their lights on ready to take a fare and said that this was noteworthy because of the circumstances in which Gunnery had stopped his taxi for the woman.
The court heard after a short conversation with the other women about paying for the fare, the woman fell asleep in her seat. She said she awoke when the car stopped at an ATM in Ballsbridge and the other two women had been dropped off.
She said she used the ATM to get cash for the taxi and then got into the front seat of the car. She said the driver put his left hand on her knee and she told him “what are you doing” and brushed it off.
She fell back to sleep and awoke at her destination to Gunnery attacking her. The driver had his hand inside the woman and was moving it aggressively and fast while also masturbating himself inside his trousers.
She said she asked the driver “what the hell was he doing” and he became aggressive and began demanding payment of the fare. She said she was trying to stay in the car to locate his ID badge in order to identify him when Gunnery walked around to the passenger door.
Dt Sgt Hunt said that woman had a cast around an arm from an earlier fracture and that Gunnery pulled her out by the arm with enough force to break the strap of her handbag.
He left her “in a heap” on the side of the road and went to get back into his taxi but then got out again and dragged her out of the way of the car. She managed to take a photo of the taxi number plate as Gunnery sped off in the car and gardaí later used this to track him down.
Mr McGinn told the court that one of the most valuable aspects of the guilty plea for a victim was that “it affirms what she did was completely blameless and that the defendant was the wrongdoer”.
He handed into court a “heartfelt” letter written by his client in which Gunnery apologised “abjectly” to the victim.
Work references handed in described Gunnery as “hard working and trustworthy”. Two close friends, including a community leader, wrote that they were shocked, troubled and surprised on hearing about the assault.
Mr McGinn said this was evidence that his behaviour that night was out of character and that he was otherwise “a fine upstanding citizen”.
In a statement made to gardaí, Gunnery claimed that the woman first took his hand and held it. He said she began holding his hand and told him to “go for it” and he began rubbing her on her underwear.
He claimed she said stop and he did but he began masturbating himself and she said “what are you doing”. He claimed she was then getting out of the car and he said he “stupidly” asked about the fare and “she kicked off and wouldn't get out”.
Gunnery was due to go on trial in February last year but this was adjourned. He pleaded guilty to the charge in October.