Demon drink excuse is often the first refuge of scoundrels

A look back through newspaper archives shows the defence of over-indulging is an enduring one, says Trevor Laffan
Demon drink excuse is often the first refuge of scoundrels

A Garda attempts to direct traffic in fog at Singer’s Corner, Cork, in 1934 — guards have long had to deal with drunks while on duty

DEFENDING solicitors regularly offer excuses on behalf of defendants in court to mitigate the offence, in the hope of achieving a better outcome for their client.

Some excuses have a familiar ring to them, like drunkenness which is one that features often. “My client has no recollection of the incident, Judge. He was drunk at the time but apologises for his actions and is mending his ways.”

A variation of that is for the defendant to blame his indiscretion on the fact that he was on strong medication and, when mixed with alcohol, it caused him to act in a manner that was completely out of character. “He is extremely remorseful and gives an undertaking to the court that he will never appear in front of your honour again.”

If you want to witness this yourself, just wander into your local court-house and you will hear these excuses first-hand. I thought I had heard them all, but this one is new to me, even though it is 60 years old and I found it in a court report in the Cork Examiner from 1960. I’ve made some slight changes just to make it more readable.

The defendant in this case was described as a menace to the community, by Judge J. Feran at Ballybunion Court. He imposed a fine of £50, to be paid forthwith, on the 29 year-old Kerryman, for assaulting, resisting and obstructing Garda Thomas Dunne in the execution of his duty.

The defendant, who was described as a commercial artist working in England, was fined £1 with £7 17s. expenses and also disqualified from driving for two years, for dangerous driving.

Garda Dunne told the court he was walking towards the strand in Ballybunion at about 7.15pm in civilian attire when he saw a car travelling at a very fast speed. It braked hard and swerved over to its incorrect side of the road. The car stopped and then continued on the road to the strand and braked violently again.

When Garda Dunne heard the screech of brakes a second time, he ran towards the car. He produced his identification card to the driver and told him he was a garda. The defendant refused to give his name and address and told Garda Dunne he wouldn’t take him and then drove off.

Garda Dunne asked a passing motorist to follow the defendant and soon came across the empty car parked on the side of the road. He found the ignition key and took it, thinking the car might have been stolen and abandoned.

Shortly afterwards, the defendant returned to the car, and when asked for his driving licence and insurance he declined and again refused to give his name and address.

The defendant got into the car, but realised the key was missing. He approached the garda and demanded the key and, when it wasn’t forthcoming, he struck Garda Dunne on the jaw. The two men struggled and Garda Dunne knocked the defendant down. They were both on the ground when the local sergeant and another garda arrived on the scene.

Sergeant Cummins caught a hold of the defendant and took him away. At one stage, the defendant got truculent and said: “Let me go or I’ll kill you.” Sergeant Cummins said the defendant was very excited and resisted slightly.

Mr O’Reilly, solicitor for the defendant said it was a most regrettable occurrence but asked the Judge to take into account that Garda Dunne was not in uniform on the occasion.

He submitted the question of assaulting a garda in civilian clothing was not as serious as assaulting a garda in uniform. It was, he agreed, a very serious offence to attack a garda, but the defendant was terribly highly strung and erratic.

“The defendant has an artistic temperament and cannot bear to be provoked,” said Mr O’Reilly, who added that the defendant completely lost control of himself and tried to beat up the garda.

The Judge remarked that the defendant was very fortunate that Garda Dunne restrained himself when struggling with the defendant because he believed the defendant would not have had a chance against the garda in a free for all.

The judge was obviously impressed that Garda Dunne wasn’t as easily provoked as the sensitive, artistic defendant.

Another court report from the Examiner around the same time showed that not all criminals 60 years ago were masterminds.

At Cork District Court in October, 1960, before District Justice D. P. O’Donovan, a serving soldier pleaded guilty to a charge of breaking and entering a house in Cork city with intent to commit a felony.

Garda J. Nolan, who investigated the case, said that the defendant had admitted taking an apple tart, a key and some small change. Mr Goldberg, solicitor, who appeared for the defendant, said that he was a native of Limerick and had previously had a good character both at home and in the army. The Judge imposed a fine of £5, but there’s no mention of what happened to the apple tart.

It was drink, not food, that caused a problem for another defendant. “It is with great reluctance I am giving you another chance, but I warn you that if you ever come before me again for assaulting the guards I will give you 12 months in jail,” said Justice J. M. P. Buckley at Rathmore court in Kerry. He imposed a suspended sentence of six months imprisonment on the Rathmore native before him that day.

He was convicted of assaulting Sergeant T. Bowen in the execution of his duty. Mr. C. Healy, solicitor, said that his client took excess drink at the races and apparently the brew was potent. He expressed regret for what had happened.

That was 60 years ago, and the potency of alcohol is still being blamed for indiscretions today.

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