A lifelong criminal is to be sentenced next week for an armed robbery of a bookmakers, after which he hijacked a woman’s car and threatened to kill her.
Trevor Byrne, who has 44 previous convictions, had left his phone at the scene, and was convicted earlier this year by the Special Criminal Court of five charges arising from the armed robbery of BoyleSports in Applewood Village in Swords, Co Dublin, on March 19th, 2010.
Prosecution counsel Mr Shane Costelloe SC today told the non-jury court on Monday that neither the manager of the bookmakers nor the victim of the hijacking wished for their victim impact statements to be read out in open court.
Mr Costelloe said that it would be apparent why the victim impact statements weren't being read aloud and asked the judges to take that into consideration when giving their judgement.
Byrne (41) of Cappagh Road, Finglas West in Dublin had pleaded not guilty to the robbery, possession of a firearm, false imprisonment, threatening to kill and of unlawfully seizing a vehicle used in the getaway.
The father-of-three is already serving a nine-year sentence for a firearms offence; he had been found by armed gardaí in a back garden cabin, where a loaded handgun had been stashed.
Pointed a gun at gardaí
He previously served an eight-year term for robbery of a pub/off-licence, after which he tried to hijack an unmarked garda car, pointing a gun at gardaí. He then managed to escape in a taxi, after holding a gun to a taxi-driver’s head while being pursued by gardaí.
He was released from that sentence in November 2009, four months before carrying out the Swords raid.
The non-jury court convicted Byrne in this case, after being satisfied that a mobile phone dropped at the scene during the robbery was his. He was also recognised from CCTV.
Sergeant Mairéad Murray told Shane Costelloe SC, prosecuting, that it was the fourth time a trial had been scheduled for Byrne to face these charges.
He had originally been tried in the Circuit Criminal Court with a co-accused. While his co-accused was acquitted, there was a disagreement among the jury on Byrne’s charges.
His second trial before the Circuit Criminal Court collapsed, after a member of jury asked to be recused.
A bench warrant had to be issued for Byrne’s arrest when his third trial was due to begin. At that stage, the DPP decided that the trial should be remitted to the Special Criminal Court.
The judges heard that three members of staff at the bookies said they were put in fear of their lives.
Some members of the public were present when firearms had been put to the heads of staff members in the original incident. The alarm was raised when another member of the public attempted to enter the shop, saw the robbery taking place and called the gardaí.
Last day of Cheltenham
However, before they arrived, the raiders had compelled staff to open a shutter and let them out. It was the last day of the Cheltenham festival, but the raiders got away with only €1,490 in cash.
Threats were also made to a woman, whom Byrne and another male stopped as she drove her car outside the Boylesports shortly after closing time that day then forced her to drive them away.
The woman, Helen Leigh, had been leaving a nearby shop at the time.
She gave evidence of one of the men telling his accomplice during their getaway that he “could not believe” he had dropped his phone at the scene. Ms Leigh said that the males refused to let her out of the car, demanding that she look to her left out the window and not at them. However, she said she could hear one refer to the other using a name beginning with “T”.
They eventually released the Ms Leigh on a country road but took a portion of a letter she had in her handbag. It bore her address, and they threatened to come and find her if she went to gardaí.
The mobile phone found at the scene was examined. A phone number saved on it as ‘Ma’ matched the number given by Byrne’s mother on official government documents.
Byrne had told gardaí that the phone could have been an older one that once belonged to him and claimed to have had a phone stolen from him.
Following the trial, presiding judge Mr Justice Michael MacGrath said it would have been incredible for the phone to have been “stolen and then brought back to the scene the next day by someone who looked like the accused”.
Mr Justice MacGrath said that he was satisfied with the good quality of the CCTV at the bookies, from which gardaí identified the defendant as he looked towards the camera upon entering the premises.
Byrne and the other male then entered the bathroom, from which two men re-emerged 35 minutes later, brandishing guns and wearing balaclavas.
Photos were later taken of the inside of one of the stalls. A ceiling tile had been displaced and the assumption was that they had hidden in the attic crawl space.
Mr Justice McGrath said that the court was satisfied that the robbery had put the staff and Ms Leigh in fear of their lives due to the use of “lethal weapons” by both men.
Justice MacGrath said that he was satisfied that it was Byrne, who caught on the CCTV in the bookies before the robbery and said the CCTV, which captured the entire incident was of good quality.
He said that the staff and Ms Leigh were all “entirely consistent” in giving their evidence and that Byrne’s claim that the phone was stolen from him “doesn’t bear scrutiny”.
Byrne was back before the court on Monday for his sentence hearing.
Mr Costelloe told the court that both Ms Leigh and the manager of the bookmakers had prepared victim impact statements. However, they did not wish for them to be read out in open court.
Counsel told the court that the firearms charge carried a presumptive minimum sentence of five years in prison. Both robbery and false imprisonment carried maximum sentences of life imprisonment. He said that a threat to kill carried a maximum sentence of 10 years, while hijacking had a maximum sentence of 15 years.
Byrne's barrister, John D Fitzgerald SC, pointed out that his client's earliest previous conviction was at a time when he was a minor.
He said that he had been raised by his mother with four siblings, three of whom had died in tragic circumstances.
“It’s a background marked by chaos and tragedy,” he said.
However, he now has three children of his own with his partner of 22 years.
Justice MacGrath,, who sat with Justice Sinéad Ní Chúlacháin and Justice David Keane, said the court would give its judgment on sentencing on Thursday of next week.