A 45-year-old man who broke into the home of an 83-year-old woman in the middle of the night, pretended to be a garda and stole over €2,500 in cash has been jailed for six years for the offences and a series of other break-ins including four others on the same night.
Anthony Horgan, a native of Carrigtwohill but of no fixed abode, pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court on Wednesday to a series of break-ins at houses in the Tower Street, High Street and Windmill Road areas of Cork's southside on the night of April 16th/17th, 2020.
Det Sgt Joe Young said Mr Horgan and co-accused, Christopher Jones (28) broke into five houses that night including one at Tyrone Place on Tower Street where they went into the bedroom of the owner, an 83-year-old woman who was living alone, woke her up and pretended to be gardaí.
“They broke into this house at 4.03am and they woke the occupant, an 83 year old woman living alone who was cocooning because of Covid 19 and the national lockdown,” said Det Sgt Young. “ They woke her up when they went into her bedroom and shone the torches from their phones.
“They told her they were gardai checking on burglaries and they asked her where she kept her money so she directed them to a shelf and they stole €2,500 and another €200 she had put away in a confirmation card for her grandson as well as £80 sterling.”
Det Sgt Young said that Horgan and Jones were in the house for just four minutes but they were identified on CCTV and they were arrested twelve hours later by gardai who later recovered €1,600 of the elderly woman’s money after Horgan gave it to a relative for safe keeping.
Horgan was interviewed five times by gardai about the spate of break-ins but made no admissions and during the final interview, he picked up a steel bin and threatened to smash the window of the interview room in Togher Garda Station unless he was returned to his cell.
He also pleaded guilty to an aggravated burglary just over a week earlier, on April 9th, when he and Jones had armed themselves with a baseball bat and broken into a flat on Great William O’Brien Street on Cork’s Northside. They fled the scene on that occasion, however, when they were confronted by the occupants.
Det Sgt Young said that Horgan was homeless at the time of the offences and that he suffered from addiction to drink and drugs but he described him as “a career criminal” who was first convicted at the age of 17 and had since amassed a total of 88 convictions including 11 in the UK.
Among his convictions in Ireland was one for an aggravated burglary in Carrigtwohill in 2002 when he broke into the home of a 61 year old wheelchair bound man and threatened him with an iron bar for. He subsequently received a five year custodial sentence for the offence, said Det Sgt Young.
Defence barrister, Alison McCarthy BL, said that her client had come forward on a signed plea of guilty which had spared all his victims from having to give evidence in a trial situation and she pointed out that his co-accused, Jones, had received a five year term with one year suspended.
Prosecution counsel, Ray Boland BL said that the DPP was of the view that the burglaries were at the upper end of the scale in that they occurred by night, targeting a residential area during Covid when the accused should have known there were people at home and merited a nine to 14 year sentence.
Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin, who also sentenced Horgan’s co-accused, Jones, to five years with one suspended in February, said he had to examine whether there was much that differentiated the two men in terms of their level of culpability in the series of burglaries.
He said it was difficult to make much differentiation between them but he disagreed with the DPP’s contention that it was a pre-planned series of break-ins as he believed they all happened in “a somewhat chaotic outburst” while Horgan was living on the street and addicted to drink and drugs.
However, Judge Ó Donnabháin said he accepted that confronting the elderly woman and some of the other residents in the other break-ins on the night of April 17th was a significant aggravating factor while it did appear that Horgan had a history in terms of burglaries.
He said he believed he should impose a headline sentence of seven years and while he didn’t see much realistic prospect of Horgan rehabilitating himself, he would suspend the final year on foot of his guilty pleas, leaving Horgan with six years to serve in jail.