Waterford burglary gang have prison sentences increased on appeal
A gang found “cowering in a hole” after threatening to shoot two female cashiers during the hold-up of a Post Office in Waterford have been given increased prison sentences following an appeal by prosecutors.
Alan Wall (40), Michael Tynan (36) and Conor O’Connor (39), all of no fixed abode, as well as Barry Walsh (31), of Thornberry Square, in Clonee, Dublin 15, pleaded guilty to robbery at the Cleaboy Post Office, in Waterford on May 3, 2018. They also each pleaded guilty to possession of a sawn-off shotgun on the same occasion.
Waterford Circuit Criminal Court heard that three of the men entered the Post Office wearing balaclavas, brandishing a sawn-off shotgun and two hammers, before making off with approximately €45,000 in cash.
One of two ladies working behind the counter, who had the gun pointed directly at her, described the “totally senseless” robbery of a “defenceless target”. She said nobody should be afraid to go to work for fear of being shot, and that the Post Office was “part of the glue in our community” which “should be a safe place”.
Wall and Tynan were sentenced to five years imprisonment with the final 18 months suspended while Walsh and O’Connor were sentenced to six years imprisonment with the final 12 months suspended. Each of their sentences were deemed “unduly lenient” following an appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Wall was resentenced to seven years imprisonment; Walsh to seven-and-a-half years imprisonment; O’Connor to eight years imprisonment and Tynan to seven years and three months imprisonment by the Court of Appeal on Monday.
Giving judgment in the three-judge court, Mr Justice John Edwards said Wall, Walsh and O’Connor entered the premises together wearing balaclavas and latex gloves, while Tynan remained outside as the getaway driver.
There were two female cashiers working inside the counter at the time, as well as two female customers, one of whom had her two children with her, a three-year-old and a baby in a pram.
Mr Justice Edwards said the raider wielding the sawn-off shotgun banged the gun off the perspex glass partition and the two Post Office workers were threatened they would be shot if they didn’t hand over cash. They were forced to hand over €42,755, $950, and STG£1,200, before the raiders drove from the scene in an erratic manner.
Within minutes of receiving the first report, Mr Justice Edwards said gardaí received a second report concerning a vehicle on fire in a quiet cul de sac in the Knockhouse area of Waterford city. A witness described seeing a group of males running across the Waterford Outer Ring Road, and into a wooded area near the WIT arena.
Gardaí were able to extinguish the fire before the car was fully burnt out and inside they found a sawn-off shotgun, two shotgun cartridges and a hammer.
A witness who was out walking the Greenway happened to see three males hiding in a wooded area. Gardaí searched the area and found “three men cowering in a hole within a fallen tree” while the fourth raider was found hiding on the far side of the tree.
Gardaí discovered that the robbers had access to a second vehicle and one of the raiders was found to have done two “trial runs.”
Tynan and Wall had entered the Post Office the previous day. Wall had done so again just moments before the robbery. All four were interviewed by gardaí and each answered “no comment” to questions asked of them.
In a victim impact statement, one of the Post Officer workers, Caroline Walsh, said there were “very few occupations where you face a real threat of armed attack. You would scarcely think that working in your local post office would pose such a threat. However, on Thursday, May 3, 2018, this is exactly what happened to me.”
Ms Walsh said she lay awake some nights, when “sleep is as likely as winning the lotto, and it replays again and again in my head. I can see them entering the post office and then the gun pointing directly at me. I’m happy to say that this has become less frequent as time has passed, but I still cannot banish the memory of absolute shock and fear for both myself and my colleagues and customers.”
“I wish the people who carried out this robbery no personal ill will. I only hope that none of their mothers, fathers, families or friends experience what we did that day. The Post Office is not only a place for people to go to pay their bills or send Euro to family abroad, it is part of the glue in our community and it should be a safe place. No one should be afraid to go to work for fear of being shot. The same of any other member of the public who uses the post office,” she added.
Mr Justice Edwards said Conor O’Connor had 155 previous convictions including 123 for road traffic matters, eight for public order offences, eight for theft, five for burglary, two for handling stolen property, two for robbery, one for making a threat to kill, one for obstructing a peace officer and one for possession of drugs. He raided the Post Office during the period of a suspended sentence for robbery. He was placed at a high risk of reoffending.
Michael Tynan (36) had 72 previous convictions including three for possessing drugs for sale or supply, one for having a flick-knife in a public place, one for criminal damage, one for theft and 50 convictions for road traffic offences.
Barry Walsh had 55 previous convictions, including three for theft, two for burglary, one for handling stolen property, one for possession of a controlled drug for sale or supply, one for violent behaviour in a garda station and two for obstructing a peace officer.
Alan Wall had 13 previous convictions, including three for unlawful possession of drugs and one for unauthorised possession of firearm ammunition. He was assessed at being at moderate risk of reoffending.
Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Conor O’Doherty BL, submitted that the sentences were “simply too light having regard to the gravity” of the offences.
Mr O’Doherty pointed to a number of aggravating factors that existed in all cases. These were: the extremely serious and violent nature of the robbery; the violence used and threatened against those present in the Post Office; the level of planning and premeditation; the raiders acted as a gang; the sums of money taken; the traumatic effect of the robbery; the attempted destruction of the sawn-off shotgun; the fact a firearm was used and the “impact on the wider community, given the fact that the robbery was at a Post Office at the centre of the local community”.
Mr Justice Edwards said the Court of Appeal agreed that the starting point, or headline sentences, for the robbery were “too low in every case” and that, thereafter, too much credit was given for the mitigating factors.
The court also believed there was “nothing unjust” in imposing the presumptive mandatory minimum sentence of five years imprisonment for possession of a firearm in each case, albeit that these sentences were to run concurrently.
Mr Justice Edwards, who sat with Mr Justice Brian McGovern and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, resentenced Wall to seven years imprisonment; Walsh to seven-and-a-half years imprisonment; O’Connor to eight years imprisonment and Tynan to seven years and three months imprisonment.
In addition, the court imposed concurrent five-year sentences in each case for the firearms offence.