A man who “acted as a vigilante” and attacked a “blameless” stranger after reading false claims on social media will be sentenced next year.
Stephen McInerney (29) of Slade Castle Avenue, Saggart, pleaded guilty to assault causing harm and the production of pepper spray on July 14, 2020 at a location in Saggart.
McInerney has 36 previous convictions, including one for making threats to kill.
McInerney confronted the victim after reading false allegations on social media that the man was a paedophile.
Judge Crowe said on Monday that this was a “hateful set of circumstances”, in which the accused had taken it upon himself to “act as a vigilante” while the victim was “utterly blameless”.
She adjourned the case to March 2023 for a probation report to be compiled to assess McInerney’s risk of reoffending.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that McInerney was one of two men who confronted the victim while he was walking to the shops at around 7pm on the day in question. The men showed the victim a photo on a phone and asked if it was him.
Detective Garda Colm Maher told Rónán Prendergast BL, prosecuting, that the victim tried not to engage in conversation and walked on. The men then accused him of being a paedophile.
McInerney also shouted at the victim that he would kill him.
The victim went into a nearby shop to ask for help. When he left the shop, he spotted the two men standing nearby and McInerney sprayed him with pepper spray.
The victim returned to the shop, where security staff gave him water to wash his face. The victim was afraid and stayed in the shop until his sister and her husband arrived to walk home with him.
While they were walking home, McInerney approached the victim and repeated the accusation. McInerney started shouting after being asked if he had attacked the victim earlier.
The victim took out his phone and started to record the incident. This video was played to the court. The victim’s sister told gardaí that she thought McInerney had a knife in his hand, which he put away when he realised the victim was recording him.
McInerney then left the scene.
Gardaí obtained CCTV footage as part of their investigation. McInerney’s home was searched on July 21, 2020 and gardaí seized pepper spray and clothes.
When interviewed by gardaí after his arrest, McInerney said he found the pepper spray on the bus.
He said the item in his hand was not a knife, but a silver table leg. He said he came across allegations about the victim on social media. He told gardaí he was sorry and it was “not my place to get involved”.
Victim impact statements were handed into the court on behalf of the victim and his sister.
Mr Prendergast told the court that the victim was stressed and anxious following the incident and that other people believed the false allegations. He said he was bullied by his neighbours and “treated as an outsider”.
Det Maher agreed with Kieran Kelly BL, defending, that his client told gardaí he had a silver table leg in his hand during the incident.
The investigating garda accepted that the accused decided to confront the victim after reading false allegations about the victim on social media, but did not circulate these claims himself.
He also agreed with Mr Kelly that his client does not have appear to have a propensity for violence.
Mr Kelly told Judge Crowe that his client regrets his actions and apologises. McInerney’s behaviour was not premeditated and he decided to confront the victim, whom he believed was a paedophile after reading false claims on social media.
McInerney is working and has a stepchild.
Mr Kelly said his client had brought €1,000 to court as a token of remorse. Det Maher said the victim did not wish to accept this.
Judge Crowe noted the phone footage showed that McInerney’s anger had “manifested towards a blameless man”.
She adjourned the case to March 27, 2023 for finalisation.
Judge Crowe also ordered McInerney to keep away from the victim.