The State has failed in its bid to overturn a wholly suspended sentence given to a man for his first brush with the law which arose after he allowed a gangland figure to stash firearms inside his Henry Hoover.
Stephen O'Connor, of Carndonagh Lawns, Donaghmede, Dublin, avoided imprisonment after pleading guilty to unlawful possession of the weapons contrary to section 27A(1) of the Firearms Act 1964 at his address on September 7th, 2019.
The offence carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.
Sentencing O'Connor (45), Judge Elma Sheahan at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court noted the two semi-automatics – which had been both loaded with 15 rounds of 9mm Luger ammunition when they were located inside the domestic appliance by gardai – had been found “at a time of significant gangland activity in Dublin city”.
Judge Sheahan said the headline sentence she had identified for the offence was seven years’ imprisonment.
She reduced that amount to four years after taking O’Connor’s lack of previous convictions into account and the fact he had never come to the attention of gardai beforehand.
The judge also noted that O’Connor was someone with serious mental health difficulties who had been taken advantage of by a “criminal figure”, and she suspended the four-year term in its entirety.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) later appealed the sentence on grounds that it was unduly lenient.
At a hearing in October, Fiona Murphy SC, for O’Connor, said that during the gangland feud in Dublin “people were leaned on, on a regular basis” and that her client had never come to the attention of gardaí prior to the offence.
Garret McCormack BL, for the DDP, told the court that the State did not object to the four-year sentence fixed by the trial judge but argued she should not have suspended the sentence in its entirety.
The Court of Appeal, however, rejected the DPP’s argument and has refused to quash the sentence imposed in May this year.
In a written judgement delivered on Thursday, Court President Mr Justice George Birmingham said Judge Sheahan’s decision to fully suspend the four-year sentence “was an unusual and exceptional one”, and it was clear to the three-judge court “it was not a decision that the judge took lightly”.
Mr Justice Birmingham, who had heard the original appeal along with Mr Justice John Edwards and Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly, also said the extent of O’Connor’s mental health problems – which had included “very serious attempts to commit suicide” while grieving two brothers who had died by suicide – had placed the case into the “very exceptional category”.
“In the circumstances, we are not disposed to accede to the Director’s application to review the sentence on grounds of undue leniency,” Mr Justice Birmingham concluded.
At the sentencing hearing in May, the court was told O’Connor had been “incredibly vulnerable” when approached by a criminal figure and only agreed to store the firearms to “get them off his back”.
Detective Garda Jonathan Griffin told Mr McCormack, prosecuting, that search warrants were obtained for O'Connor's home and van.
Gardaí found a Henry Hoover in the van and the two “ready to use” semi-automatic pistols with 15 rounds of ammunition were discovered inside the domestic appliance, Det Gda Griffin added.
Det Gda Griffin agreed with Ms Murphy SC, defending, that her client seemed to have serious mental health issues.
He also agreed that no DNA had been found on the guns.