Gang member jailed for 18 years over tiger kidnapping

Judge pays tribute to ‘three remarkable women” who showed such courage

 

A man has been jailed for 18 years for a €92,000 post office robbery during which three women were tied up and abducted.

Paschal Kelly (53) was one of a gang of three men who burst into the home of postmistress Susan Lawlor at Seabury Drive, Malahide, Dublin on September 25th, 2014.

The gang used to cable ties to bind Ms Lawlor, her daughter and an Italian student who was staying at the home. The women were brought to a field where they were held over night before the gang drove them to the Bayside Post Office in Sutton, Dublin.

At one stage Kelly threatened to burn them alive in a car by pouring petrol over it. The raiders eventually left with the cash.

Last December Kelly, with an address in Cootehill, Co Cavan, was convicted of trespass and false imprisonment of Ms Lawlor, her daughter Emma Carter and student Gabriella Saisa.

He was also convicted of robbery at Bayside Post Office and of threatening to kill the three women. He was found guilty of possession of a stolen vehicle, all on the same date.

The father-of-two had denied all charges. His trial last year extended into a ninth week at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

On Friday, Judge Karen O’Connor paid “a very special tribute to the three remarkable women” who she said showed courage that not only got them through their ordeal but led to the capture of one suspect.

She said it was clear Ms Lawlor was using her mind right to the end of the incident when she suggested the raiders put money into post office bags so it could be traced.

Extraordinary dignity

She noted too how Ms Carter had tried to delay leaving the house because she thought her screaming might have alerted the gardaí.

“These women have demonstrated extraordinary dignity throughout this case and for that I am very grateful to them,” Judge O’Connor said.

She said during the sentence hearing last week, Kelly’s defence team had suggested this case did not meet the criteria for a tiger kidnapping.

Judge O’Connor said she disagreed and described how Ms Lawlor’s home was violated and targeted and that she was “clearly the subject of surveillance”. The judge said the offending was premeditated, because the raiders used duct tape, cable ties and guns and they had their faces disguised.

She said Ms Lawlor was separated, punched and threatened before being brought to the post office and that the money was only recovered because her “fast-thinking actions” had alerted the authorities.

Judge O’Connor told the court it made for “disturbing viewing” to have watched the CCTV footage of the three women being brought into the post office in their night wear.

Judge O’Connor said the aggravating factors in the case was its premeditated and planned nature, the violation of Ms Lawlor’s home and the use of firearms.

She said the threats to kill instilled considerable fear and terror. The judge told the court she was respecting the three women’s wishes by not disclosing details of their victim impact statements in public.

Detective Superintendent Tony Howard speaking to media outside Dublin Circuit Criminal Court where Paschal Kelly of Cootehill in Cavan was convicted and has been jailed for 18 years following a tiger kidnapping in North Dublin. Photograph: Collins Courts
Detective Superintendent Tony Howard speaking to media outside Dublin Circuit Criminal Court where Paschal Kelly of Cootehill in Cavan was convicted and has been jailed for 18 years following a tiger kidnapping in North Dublin. Photograph: Collins Courts

She acknowledged the crime clearly impacted on them and said “one cannot imagine the terror the three women endured that night”.

She accepted Kelly had a difficult and chaotic upbringing and had suffered deprivation from a young age. She said he had suffered “extremely serious abuse” in State institutions, but has a supportive partner and two “impressive” children, who have never come to Garda attention.

The court heard Kelly’s 60 previous convictions include assaults, escaping lawful custody, robbery and road traffic offences. In March 2015 he was sentenced for threatening to kill a Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) officer and failure to provide tax returns.

He received 10 years for a post office robbery in 1997 and four years for another robbery offence in 1989.

Became frightened

Judge O’Connor imposed an 18-year sentence with credit to be given for time Kelly has already spent in custody on the matter.

Judge O’Connor noted how the men had threatened to break Ms Lawlor’s arm, pour petrol over the car and burn the three women when they found out the post office safe would not open until 8am.

Referring to evidence in the trial, the judge said when Ms Lawlor later heard something being sprayed in the car she became frightened until she was told it was cleaning agent to get rid of DNA.

At the sentence hearing last week, Detective Garda Donal O’Connell described how two armed and masked raiders entered Ms Lawlor’s home in the early hours of the morning. Before being abducted, Ms Lawlor managed to call a special tiger kidnapping number issued by An Post.

Det Garda O’Connell told Kerida Naidoo SC, prosecuting, that Ms Lawlor put the phone under her bedcovers as the call went through and staff at the security monitoring centre were able to listen in. This set off a chain of events and gardaí got involved.

The two men drove the women, who were bound by cable ties, to north county Dublin in Ms Lawlor’s Nissan Qashqai. Here they were joined by a third man in a stolen Volkswagen Golf.

The women later described this man as the least threatening and youngest of the raiders. He was identified as Stephen Murray, who has since died. The women gave evidence during the trial that the taller of the two men who entered their home was the most aggressive.

It was the prosecution’s case that this was Kelly. When Ms Lawlor pointed out that the post office safe was on a time lock, Kelly physically assaulted her and threatened to burn her and the other two women alive.

Eventually the raiders brought the three women to the post office, took about €92,000 and left in the Golf. Members of the Emergency Response Unit tracked down the vehicle and arrested Stephen Murray at the scene.

The other two raiders evaded capture, but Kelly’s DNA was found to match that on water bottles in the VW Golf and on a hat, face mask and glove found in rear gardens of houses along the escape route.

The court heard that Kelly and the other raider returned to Ms Lawlor’s home in the Golf at one point during the night and gardaí who were watching the area were able to get a partial registration on the vehicle.

Det Garda O’Connell said there was CCTV footage, phone evidence as well as descriptions from civilians and the three women.

Det Garda O’Connell told Judge Karen O’Connor that the women did not wish details within their victim impact statements published.

Martin O’Rourke SC, defending, submitted to Judge O’Connor that this was not the worst case of its type. He said a psychological report handed into court on his client’s background made for “disturbing reading”.

He submitted his client had a “Dickensian upbringing” and it was unsurprising he turned to criminality and drugs, starting from the age of 10.