Gang given no extra jail time over €2 million robbery attempt

Court of Appeal rules against DPP over ‘unduly lenient’ sentencing

A gang who tried to steal  from a cash-in-transit van have been given no extra jail time

A gang who tried to steal from a cash-in-transit van have been given no extra jail time

 

A gang who tried to steal over €2 million from a cash-in-transit van in Co Meath three years ago have been given no extra jail time despite an appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Stefan Saunders (41), from Hazelbury Park, Blanchardstown in Dublin; Francis Murphy (39), from Drogheda Road, Carranstown, Duleek, Co Louth; and Damien Noonan (32), from Rusheeny Court, Hartstown, Co Dublin, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit robbery on dates between August 26th and October 7th, 2016.

Saunders and Murphy also pleaded guilty to carrying a semi-automatic pistol at Yeats Centre, Navan Road, Dunboyne, on or about October 7th, 2016 with intent to commit robbery. Noonan pleaded guilty to possession of a stolen BMW, the would-be getaway vehicle, on the same date.

They were each sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment with the final two-and-a-half suspended by Judge Michael O’Shea on June 12th, 2018.

The DPP sought a review of the men’s sentences on grounds they were “unduly lenient”.

However, the three-judge Court of Appeal declined to intervene, holding the sentences were “at the very limit” of the Circuit Court judge’s discretion.

Giving judgment, the Court of Appeal president, Mr Justice George Birmingham, said Saunders and Noonan were observed carrying out reconnaissance in or about the location of the robbery in the weeks prior to being caught.

On four occasions, they were noted as carrying out surveillance on cash deliveries. On three occasions, there was interference with the premises.

Mr Justice Birmingham said gardaí were in a position to follow conversations taking place between the gang, and it was clear that a firearm was in their possession “and that the firearm could be used if necessary”.

As gardaí moved into the disused bank Saunders and Murphy were hiding in, Saunders was seen to throw a Makarov semiautomatic pistol to the floor. “There was one round in the breach and there were seven rounds in the magazine.”

He said Saunders and Murphy were dressed in “extremely tight-fitting, spandex-type clothing”. They had ski-masks - known as snoods - and were each wearing two pairs of latex gloves.

They had bleach, which they sprayed across the room and a sheet to lie on as they waited for the G4S van. They all had walkie-talkies and carried mobile phones.

Noonan had dropped Saunders and Murphy off at the bank in the early hours and waited for them on the main street in Dunboyne in a stolen BMW X 5 SUV. The van and the ATM contained more than €2 million.

In seeking a review of the men’s sentences, the DPP laid emphasis on the extensive planning, the potential yield of the robbery, the possession of a firearm and the “willingness to use that firearm which was loaded and ready to be used”.

Counsel for the DPP, Shane Costello SC, said it was contemplated to be as serious a robbery as it gets.

Mr Justice Birmingham said “this was organised, professional criminality at a high level”. He said Saunders was “obviously centrally involved” - it was he who had the firearm and the key to a back-up getaway car. However, he had no relevant previous convictions

In those circumstances, it was understandable the Circuit Court judge decided to treat each accused alike.

In the Court of Appeal’s view, the sentences were “at the outer limits in terms of leniency”. Had greater sentences been imposed, “in the range of nine to 10 years”, it was likely they would have been upheld.

Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, said the sentences fell within, “though at the very limit, of the discretionary range available” to the Circuit Court judge. The appeal was therefore dismissed.