The Court of Appeal has almost doubled the prison sentences of two men who set fire to a car with a bound and gagged prisoner in the boot, in what was described as an “unbelievable” offence “akin to attempted murder”.
Polish nationals Kamil Lacki (34) and Krzysztof Niepogoda (37), both with addresses at Shalom, Pound Lane, Borris, Co Carlow, pleaded guilty to arson, false imprisonment, assault, criminal damage and the cultivation of cannabis at various locations in the county in late December 2015.
They were sentenced at Carlow Circuit Criminal Court to six years imprisonment with the final year suspended by Judge Alice Doyle on December 8, 2017.
The Court of Appeal almost doubled their sentences on Monday on foot of an appeal brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Members of the three-judge court described the offence as "akin to attempted murder", "unbelievable" and the type of thing you see committed by "Isis and other crackpots".
Lacki was resentenced to nine years in prison while Niepogoda was given 10 years.
Giving judgment President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham said the injured party, another Polish national, was invited to spend Christmas with the men at their home from Christmas Eve.
When he arrived, he was falsely imprisoned, assaulted and threatened which continued over the following three days. Initially he was punched all over his body and hit with what was described as a sheathed samurai sword and a baseball bat.
He was then brought to a forest in Milford, while bound and gagged in the boot of the men’s car. He was taken from that car and placed into the boot of his own car, which had been driven there in convoy and was then set alight.
Before he was placed into the boot of his car, duct tape was removed so he could be questioned. Because of this, he was able to bite through the remaining duct tape in order to free himself.
As he got out of the boot, the men attempted to put him back in, but were unable, such was the heat of the fire. He was knocked to the ground and they started kicking him.
Mr Justice John Edwards commented during counsel's submissions that Lacki and Niepogoda stood there watching while the flames enveloped the car. He said it was "akin to attempted murder".
Mr Justice John Hedigan, who is due to retire as a judge on Friday, said he had never heard of such a "terrible thing". It was "unbelievable" and the type of thing you see committed by "Isis and other crackpots", the judge said.
Unable to be put back into the boot of his car, the injured party was brought to another location and held over a bridge by his feet while the men threatened to kill him.
Lacki and Niepogoda then brought him back to their property where the incident continued. An electric shock cable was held to his legs resulting in electric shocks and burn marks to both legs.
On Stephen’s Day, he managed to escape through a bathroom window. He went to a neighbour’s house and gardaí were alerted.
Upon the arrival of gardaí at the scene, Lacki and Niepogoda fled. The gardaí found what appeared to be a “growhouse” including 16 cannabis plants. The victim’s car was later found burned out. His DNA was found in the boot of the car and on cable ties found in the house.
Missing cannabis plants
The sentencing judge was satisfied that the motivation for the offence was a false belief that the victim had been responsible for cannabis plants that went missing.
After he had been released from garda custody, Niepogoda broke into the injured party’s home and assaulted him again, hitting him several times in the face with a dumbbell.
Counsel for the DPP, Conor O’Doherty BL, submitted that the headline sentences selected by the Circuit Court judge did not bear any relation to the seriousness of the offences. These were three-and-a-half years for the arson and seven years for the false imprisonment.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the Court of Appeal agreed. He said the headline sentences or pre-mitigation tariffs were “very significantly too low” and could not have been less than 12 years. If 14 or 15 years had been selected as the headline sentences, it was very unlikely the court would have interfered, the judge said.
Referring to the recent case of Jonathan Dowdall, a 40-year-old former Sinn Féin councillor jailed for torturing a man he suspected of trying to defraud him, Mr Justice Birmingham said a headline sentence of 14 years was upheld as appropriate. “That was a serious case but not the same level of seriousness as the case now before the court,” the judge said.
In mitigation, there was the men’s guilty plea and a number of testimonials which spoke about the quality of their work and good work ethic. They had no relevant previous convictions.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the court would impose nine year sentences on both men for the false imprisonment and arson counts.
He said the court would impose a consecutive 12 month sentence on Niepogoda for the second assault of the injured party, leaving him with a net sentence of 10 years.