Court hears 68-year-old man abandoned home and cycled through the night after robbery

Tuesday 21 January 2014 09.18
The case was heard at Ennis Circuit Court
The case was heard at Ennis Circuit Court

A 68-year-old pensioner abandoned his home and cycled almost 50km through the night to check himself into a nursing home after being terrorised by robbers at his remote home in west Clare.

Ennis Circuit Court heard that bachelor Michael McMahon set off from his home in Cree at 1am with his life's belongings in a few bags on his bike.

He cycled for eight hours to a nursing home in Ennis, where he checked himself in at 9am.

Mr McMahon remains in nursing home care today after fleeing his home following two nights of being put in "absolute fear" by robbers almost two years ago.

The robbers made threats on the second occasion that they were going to return to rob him for a third time, this time for €50,000.

Outlining the facts in court, Det Garda Donal Corkery said that on the second occasion, the robbers put the rung of a gate pretending that it was a gun through a broken window at Mr McMahon's home and threatened to shoot Mr McMahon.

Det Corkery said that Mr McMahon was living alone in the rural, remote location more than 3km from the village of Cooraclare without any electricity or running water.

However, Det Corkery said Mr McMahon had cash in his home from an inheritance he received from the US.

Three west Clare men pleaded guilty to robbing Mr McMahon at the court today.

Joseph Lernihan, 21, of Finnanon Park, Mullagh pleaded guilty to robbing Mr McMahon at Drumellihy West, Cree on 21 February and 25 February 2012.

Shane Donnellan, 20, Clohanbeg, Cree, Kilrush and Noel Garry, 20, of Tullycrine, Kilrush pleaded guilty to the robbery of Mr McMahon on 25 February 2012.

Det Corkery said that over the two nights around €7,000 in cash was stolen from Mr McMahon.

In evidence, Det Corkery said that at 10pm on 21 February, Mr McMahon heard banging outside his home and could see three torches in the darkness outside.

Det Corkery said that on this occasion, three windows of Mr McMahon's home were broken and Mr McMahon could see three people outside all wearing hoodies.

The detective said the three demanded €500 from outside the home and Mr McMahon was frightened and told them through a broken window that he would give them the €500.

State counsel Stephen Coughlan said the robbers were not happy with €500 "and they threatened to come into the house and search the house if he didn't give them more".

Mr Coughlan said Mr McMahon "in a state of absolute fear" handed the robbers three carrot jars containing roughly €4,000 in cash.

Det Corkery said: "One jar contained €500. They demanded more, he handed out a second jar containing roughly €1,000.

"They kept demanding more money and he handed out a third jar with the three jars roughly containing a little more than €4,000. That was all the money he had in the house."

Det Corkery said that one of the robbers told Mr McMahon: "No gardaí. We won't be back. We won't get mad."

He said Mr McMahon on the night "felt weak and was fearful from the whole ordeal, but at the time did not make any complaint to the gardaí".

Det Corkery said that the following day, Mr McMahon went to the AIB in Kilrush to withdraw €3,000 from his bank account and replaced the windows by placing blocks and turf in the gaps.

He said: "Mr McMahon attended the bank two or three times a year and would withdraw roughly €3,000 and he would live on that for three to five months. As he had no money, that is why he had to go in."

Det Corkery said that the source of Mr McMahon's income was an inheritance from the US.

Four nights later, on 25 February, robbers returned and Det Corkery said Mr McMahon saw that blocks were being removed from one of his broken windows and that a pipe was being pointed into the house.

Pipe made to look like a gun

Det Corkery said that it was a rung of a gate almost a metre in length and made to resemble a gun.

Mr Coughlan said: "He was told that it was a gun and if he tried to leave the room he would be shot."

"Mr McMahon opened the door and saw were four people outside. One of these brought Mr McMahon out to the rear of the house while the others searched the house."

Det Corkery said the robbers requested Mr McMahon's assistance to locate money in the house as they had only found a small amount in a jar.

He said that Mr McMahon retrieved the remainder of the money, which was around €3,000, and gave it to the robbers.

Mr Coughlan said: "They demanded and got Mr McMahon's bank books and they told Mr McMahon to go to the bank the following Monday and withdraw €50,000 and they would be back for that."

Det Corkery said that the robbers made the demand "after seeing a substantial sum of money on the bank books".

Mr Coughlan said that the robbers "told him that if he contacted the gardaí, they would come back and burn his house down".

Det Corkery said: "Mr McMahon told the persons there that he wouldn't be able to remain at his home because of their action and later at 1am that night, he gathered up his belongings and cycled from his address to the nursing home."

Det Corkery said that on arriving at the nursing home, Mr McMahon also made a complaint to gardaí.

He said Mr McMahon was transferred to a nursing home in Kilrush where he remains today.

Gardaí mounted surveillance operation

Det Corkery said gardaí mounted a surveillance operation outside Mr McMahon's home the following Monday lying in wait for the robbers, but they never showed.

He said gardaí have updated Mr McMahon on numerous occasions relating to the investigation.

"Mr McMahon is not a frail man. He is in good health, but he is fearful and has informed us that he will never return home again," he said.

Det Corkery said that Mr McMahon has declined the option of providing a victim impact statement to the court.

The detective said that some of the proceeds from the robbery were spent by Lernihan, who paid €1,000 for a Passat car in Donegal, and gardaí have since seized the car.

Det Corkery said Lernihan has no previous convictions, while Donnellan works with his father and also has no previous convictions.

He said Garry has five previous convictions, including two for burglary, one for theft and one for criminal damage.

The detective said the robbers were tipped off by a juvenile, who was convinced that Mr McMahon was wealthy and lived by himself.

Det Corkery that Donnellan and Lernihan are at the lower end of involvement in the crime, with Garry higher up.

In an interview with gardaí, Lernihan explained how he came to be involved. He told gardaí: "I was stuck for money. My girlfriend was pregnant. I had no job and no money."

Counsel for Lernihan, Lorcan Connolly, said Lernihan said that after Mr McMahon gave out the three jars of cash "I gave him back €150 and said sorry".

Lernihan received €410 and €1,400 from the two robberies. He told gardaí: "I shouldn't have gone near it."

In a statement to gardaí, Donnellan said: "I'm so sorry about what I put that man through and I will pay back the money."

Probation reports are not yet ready in the case and Judge Carroll Moran adjourned sentencing to Ennis Circuit Court on 3 March.

Garry was remanded in continuing custody, while Lernihan and Donnellan were remanded on continuing bail.