Man involved in kidnapping of hurling champion to be sentenced
Stephen Freeman pleaded guilty to attempting to steal cash from Kilkenny bank in 2009
Dublin Criminal Courts of Justice, Parkgate Street, Dublin
A man who was involved in the tiger kidnapping of Kilkenny All Ireland hurling champion Adrian Ronan and his family will be sentenced later this month.
The court heard that Stephen Freeman’s role was to pick up and transport the money after the raid.
However he couldn’t drive so a gambling associate taxi-driver was hired. The case against Freeman was largely based on him admitting his role to this taxi-driver.
Freeman (27) of Ballcurris gardens, Ballymun, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court on a trial date to attempting to steal cash with others from Bank of Ireland, Parliament Street, Kilkenny on Tuesday November 3rd, 2009.
He also admitted using force on Adrian and Mary Ronan and their three children to frighten them.
He has seven previous convictions at district court level. Detective Inspector Michael Hennebry told Judge Desmond Hogan that many people were arrested for the raid but Freeman is the only one who has been prosecuted.
Judge Hogan said he would have to consider the evidence and documents handed in to court on Freeman’s behalf.
Patrick Treacy SC, prosecuting, told the court that the raiders knew there would be a “sizeable” amount of cash in the bank after the Halloween bank holiday weekend.
He added that they chose to attack on a Tuesday as they knew Securicor vans would be collecting the money that day.
Det Insp Hennebry revealed that the Ronans woke at 5am to find three masked and armed men in their bedroom.
One of the raiders brought the children downstairs and locked them in a bathroom with their mother.
They bound Mr Ronan’s hands with cable ties and told him: “You’re going to do a job for us. We’re taking your wife and you’re going to get us €3 million.”
They showed Mr Ronan, who worked in the finance and leasing sector of Bank of Ireland, photo print outs of houses of two bank colleagues. One of the men informed Mr Ronan that they targeted him because he didn’t have a house alarm.
The raiders continued to threaten Mr Ronan and his wife, saying: “You do what we tell you and no harm will happen to you. You f*** up and she’s dead.”
They asked him: “Do you want your kids to be without a mother for Christmas?”
The men took Ms Ronan to say goodbye to her husband and drove her to a disused weather station outside Kilkenny, where she was tied to a swivel chair and iron pillar.
A raider kept her captive like this for eight hours and fired a bullet from his gun into the ceiling.
The garda said the armed raiders gave Mr Ronan a mobile phone and showed him a phone scanner to warn him off contacting gardaí.
Mr Ronan drove to work with his three children in the car. He put them in a separate room in the bank and was in tears when he told the manager about the raiders’ demands.
He received a number of phone calls over the morning about getting money. One was from a gunman he recognised from the house and another from an unidentified male who sounded “cool and mature”.
He expected a final call but it never came and a short time later gardaí rang him to say his wife had been located unharmed.
She had managed to free herself and run out onto the road after her captor had left. Freeman admitted his role to the taxi driver when he was dropped back to Dublin after the raid.
Gardaí arrested and interviewed him 29 times over a week before and he finally made admissions about being asked to do a job for criminals.
He said he was informed he would be dropping something from one place to another.
Feargal Kavanagh SC, defending, said Freeman had run up large gambling debts and the raiders had exploited this and promised to have them written off if he helped them.
“He regrets not having the moral courage to walk out the door and risk being shot himself,” his barrister said.
Counsel asked the judge to remember that there is no evidence his client was ever in the Ronans’ house or in the weather station.
He described Freeman as a cog in the wheel and said that he is “hugely remorseful” and “hugely regretful.”
Mr Kavanagh submitted that Freeman has “turned his life around since.” He said he is in a new relationship and has a two year old child.
Counsel also asked the judge to give his client credit for his guilty plea. He said a recent decision by the Supreme Court concerning Section 29 warrants would have made the prosecution much more difficult without a plea.
He said Freeman has represented Ireland playing pool and has participated in youth world championships.
“Seems like the sign of a misspent youth,” Judge Hogan said. The judge remanded Freeman on continuing bail to be sentenced later this month.
Freeman wept as he sat in court listening to Mr Ronan describe the hostage situation as “hell on earth.”
The victim said he wondered how he would he would cope if his wife was murdered and detailed how the armed men told him his wife “would get a bullet” and asked him if he wanted to lose his wife for Christmas.
He said he and his family continued to suffer the effects for long afterwards. He said the family slept in the single room for 12 months after the raid and their home became “a crime scene”.
Mr Ronan said that the family still feel unsafe in their home and are reminded of that night every time they lock up and check the alarm at night.
“Every strange car that passes our house becomes a suspect,” he continued. “Little things like hearing a Dublin accent causes anxiety.”
“The raiders stole our happiness, our dreams and our future,” he said. “All of this just to rob the Bank of Ireland in Kilkenny.”
Mr Ronan said he has suffered from sleep and heart issues and his children have suffered in school. He paid tribute to his “remarkable wife” who he said would get his vote for the mother of the year award.
The victim impact report of his wife, Mary Ronan, was read into the record by counsel.
She detailed how she was held hostage for eight hours while not knowing of what “torture” her children might be going through.
After some hours in the weather station she said her kidnapper took out a gun and fired above her head.
“I thought the next shot would be for me,” she wrote.