The wheelchair user who was dragged to the ground during a robbery outside Mercy University Hospital found the attack more devastating than having his legs amputated.
The accused man, Connie Foley, was jailed for five years at Cork Circuit Criminal Court for robbery and assault causing harm to 50-year-old John O’Leary.
Detective Garda Stephen Fuller said Connie Foley of Gould’s Hill, Mallow, County Cork, carried out the robbery from John O’Leary in the wheelchair on Monday afternoon, September 14 2020.
Members of the public passing Gravel Lane, near the Mercy University Hospital shortly before 4 pm assisted the victim, who was dragged from his wheelchair.
When Foley first approached him he asked for a can of beer, then money and his phone, and the injured party refused and tried to protect himself but was dragged to the ground.
The victim went to the witness box in his wheelchair at the sentencing hearing and did not commence his victim impact statement until first turning to the video screen and asking Connie Foley to acknowledge he could hear him, which the defendant confirmed.
“On the 14th of September 2020 I must admit that life was not going particularly well for me.
"I was told I was doing very well.
“But on that day Mr Foley, you utterly and absolutely destroyed everything to the point that what you did to me did more damage to me than the amputation of my leg,” John O’Leary said.
At the hospital for a Covid-19 test he was to have a procedure on his remaining leg. He had some beers and something to eat.
“You made me feel like a coward which I hate. I like my cigarette but I dare not have one (in public) in case I’m asked for a light or a cigarette. I’m afraid of bad consequences.
“I was 50 years of age when this happened and in all that time I had never felt that way about my fellow man. Nine days after what you did to me I had to have my remaining leg amputated. But what you, Mr Foley, have done to me mentally is my biggest fight of all.
Mr O’Leary asked for permission from the judge to ask Connie Foley why he picked him and whether it was because he was in a wheelchair.
Foley replied that this was not why and said, “I was drunk. I am a raving alcoholic.
Defence barrister Donal O’Sullivan said the accused, who is 40, was in and out of custody since he was 15.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said, “This was inhuman, bordering on depravity – looking for drink, progressing to robbing and then pulling the man out of his wheelchair. It is almost as if this assault had a more detrimental effect on him than his amputation. The indignity of it, the invasion, the humiliation he suffered from his compromised position. He knew all about the vicissitudes of life and then he is subjected to this.”
The judge wished the injured party well and hoped he would recover from this attack. The judge accepted the defendant was remorseful but said society needed to be protected from him and jailed him for five years with none of it suspended.
Irish Wheelchair Association said they were “truly appalled by this violent robbery and attack on a wheelchair user in Cork. An attack on a person with a disability should be considered very serious and vile. The attacker should receive the full rigours of sentencing for their act.
"Our thoughts are with the victim, who we hope can make a full recovery from this highly traumatic event.”