`Gentlemen' post office raiders were caught after cars became embedded


THREE men from well-to-do backgrounds who took part in "bizarre league of gentlemen armed robberies have been jailed by Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

The raids on post offices in Cos Wexford, Kildare, Wicklow, Meath and Dublin began when Derek Hempenstall needed money to try to save his restaurant in Bolton Street, Dublin.

The robberies ended after what Judge Cyril Kelly said was "a quite extraordinary scene in Clane, Co Kildare, where two vehicles became embedded in each other "like Siamese twins" when driving down the street.

Sgt John Nolan told the court last month how a detective and people in Clane disrupted a getaway following the theft of £1,050 from the post office by masked men on November 18th, 1994.

Derek Hempenstall (28), a chef, married with one child, of Rutland Place and Iona Drive, Dublin, and Bobby Timmermans (33), an electronics engineer and father of three, of Newbury Lawns, Dublin, were jailed for six years for their part in robberies, attempted robberies and other offences between April and November 1994.

Judge Kelly suspended the final three years in each case following submissions by Mr Gregory Murphy SC, for Hempenstall, and Mr Erwan Mill Arden SC, for Timmermans. Mr Mill Arden said his client's main role was as a driver. Barry Dunne (22), a bar-man, of Millview Lodge, Millview, Malahide, pleaded guilty to participation in three of the robberies. He was given a two-year suspended sentence.

Judge Kelly said that apart from the Clane incident in the cases of Hempenstall and Dunne, all the evidence against the three men was their own statements.

He said the facts were extraordinary and noted that one defence counsel had described the offences as something akin to "a league of gentlemen affair", though he later withdrew a little from that description.

Judge Kelly said Hempenstall became involved through financial pressure. Timmermans committed the offences "for excitement and personal gain". Timmermans had suggested the first offence.

Sgt Nolan said a Clane resident Mr Peter Schmelter, used his car and trailer to block the getaway vehicle, a Fiesta bought for £85 by Hempenstall the day before. The gang ordered him at gunpoint to back off and hijacked another car, which they abandoned when they failed to get it moving.

Ms Maria Cahill was driving along the main street in Clane at the same time. The raiders opened the door of her Granada car and ordered her out. They began to move off but, because of a modification in the gearbox, they found it difficult and quickly abandoned it

Sgt Nolan said that an off-duty detective, Garda Aiden Egan, was menaced after he threw a billboard at them, causing them to drop money. When he grabbed at the money bag as they ran up the street, one of them brandished a shotgun.

Mr James Ennis had his Corolla car parked at a supermarket. One of the raiders shouted at him to leave the keys in it and pointed the gun in his direction. They then hijacked it. A Mr Niall Keogh then used his Land-Rover to try to block the gang getting away. They crashed into the Land Rover.

Sgt Nolan told Mr Tom O'Connell, prosecuting, the Land-Rover was embedded in the car and both vehicles were then driven in tandem for a time as if the Corolla was a sidecar.

Judge Kelly agreed with Sgt Nolan that all the locals who intervened to stop the gang escaping deserved the highest commendation for their bravery and display of good citizenship. He said the scene described might have made an interesting video film.

Det Sgt Ciaran Daly and Det Garda David Levins gave evidence of the robberies and attempted robberies at The Quay, New Ross, and Duncannon, Co Wexford; Longwood, Co Meath; Delgany, Co Wicklow; and Priorswood, Oldtown and Infirmary Road in Dublin.

Det Sgt Daly said neither Hempenstall nor Dunne was ever in trouble before this. Both came from good families. After the Clane incident, he was contacted by Hempenstall who confessed to all the other matters. Hempenstall introduced Dunne to him and he confessed his offences. A sawn-off shotgun and an imitation handgun were used in the crimes in which sums of up to £8,500 were taken.

Ms Rosemary Troy, a psychologist, said Dunne was an only child who was a bullied loner at school. He left school early and, because he was vulnerable with low self-esteem, he sought more mature company in Hempenstall's restaurant. He had now matured greatly through therapy and she was convinced he was not a criminal at heart.

Mr Michael McDowell SC noted Dunne was considered by the others less than satisfactory as a robbery participant.