Victim of machete assault told gardaí his attacker was a ‘fool’ for pleading guilty

Martin Cunningham (27) knew that the man he assaulted, Kenneth Fitzsimons, would not testify against him when he entered a guilty plea
Victim of machete assault told gardaí his attacker was a ‘fool’ for pleading guilty

Eoin Reynolds

A criminal who was struck multiple times with a machete in an assault related to a gang feud told gardaí that he would not give evidence against his attacker, who he described as a "fool" for pleading guilty, the Central Criminal Court has heard.

Martin Cunningham (27) knew that the man he assaulted, Kenneth Fitzsimons, would not testify against him when he entered a guilty plea in November last year to assault causing harm and to producing a machete in an assault that took place close to Finglas Garda station in Dublin.

The court heard that wounds to Fitzsimons exposed his ribs and that he needed four litres of blood during emergency treatment. The attack was one of more than 70 incidents arising from a feud between two rival drugs gangs in Blanchardstown and Finglas that is still ongoing.

At a sentence hearing on Wednesday morning, defence counsel Michael Bowman SC told the court that Cunningham could have walked away but was taking responsibility for what he had done because he understands that it was wrong.

He said the assault was Cunningham's reaction to a series of attacks on his home, including one in which a firearm was discharged.

Cunningham of Warrenstown Drive, Mulhuddart was originally charged with attempting to murder Kenneth Fitzsimons (41) at Liam Mellows Road, Finglas, Dublin 11 on April 10th, 2019 but the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) agreed to drop the attempted murder charge when Cunningham pleaded guilty to assault causing harm and producing a machete.

'I think he was coked out of it'

A jury that had been sworn-in to hear Cunningham's trial were then told that their service was no longer required. They had heard that Cunningham is an apprentice electrician who worked at Ardmore Studios in Co Wicklow. The DPP today formally entered a nolle prosequi on the attempted murder charge.

At this morning's sentence hearing, Detective Sergeant Damien Mangan told Desmond Dockery SC, for the DPP, that Fitzsimons was standing at a bus stop close to Finglas Garda station when he was approached by the accused, who was wearing tracksuit bottoms and a hoodie.

In a statement given to gardaí shortly after the assault, Fitzsimons said he saw Cunningham jogging and then sprinting towards him with a "big-ass machete" with an orange handle. Fitzsimons told gardaí that he recognised Cunningham and heard him say something like: "Kenneth, I'm going to chop you up."

Fitzsimons described being knocked to the ground where he was struck repeatedly with the machete. He told gardaí: "He swung at me wildly, like a mad man. I could see it in his eyes. I think he was coked out of it."

Fitzsimons freed himself and ran to Finglas Garda station where he bled on the floor of the public area before a nearby ambulance crew stabilised him and took him to Blanchardstown hospital. A doctor's report handed into court described the victim's injuries, which included lacerations and deep wounds to his neck, arms, legs and torso.

Wounds on either side of the torso exposed his ribs and he required four litres of blood before being transferred to an operating theatre. Det Sgt Mangan said Fitzsimons recovered from his injuries without further complications. The entire incident was captured on CCTV which was shown to the court.

Gardaí found the machete in a nearby garden but forensic scientists could not find fingerprints or DNA linking it to Cunningham. When Cunningham was arrested he was detained at Finglas Garda station and interviewed five times but responded "no comment" to all questions.

Refusal to testify

The detective accepted that the prosecution case relied entirely on the victim's evidence who, before Cunningham was due to go on trial, told gardaí that he wanted to withdraw his complaint and would not give evidence at trial.

He said that anything he said to gardaí was due to the effect of drugs which, he said, had a detrimental impact on his memory. The court also heard that Fitzsimons is serving a five-and-a-half year sentence for possession of a firearm.

Cunningham, the court heard, has previous convictions for driving without insurance and possession of drugs. He was on bail when he attacked Fitzsimons and while on remand for the assault was fined for driving offences and while in custody was convicted of assault and making threats.

Det Sgt Mangan said that the assault on Fitzsimons was one of more than 70 incidents arising from a feud between two rival drugs gangs in Blanchardstown and Finglas that is still ongoing. Both groups have committed assaults, carried out petrol bombings and fired shots at the homes of rivals. The firearms offence for which Fitzsimons was convicted arose out of the feud.

The detective agreed with Mr Bowman, for the defence, that shots were fired at Cunningham's home and the windows put in with hammers. He further agreed that Cunningham was concerned for his younger brother who has autism and was in the house when these attacks happened.

He also agreed that Fitzsimons had told gardaí that he would say in court that everything in his statement was a "pack of lies" and when told that Cunningham was going to plead guilty, said: "He's a bigger fool if he does." He said that he would "walk" if he said nothing.

'Emotional rather than calculated'

Cunningham knew what Fitzsimons had said before entering the guilty plea, Sgt Mangan said, and he agreed that the prosecution was "entirely contingent" on Fitzsimon's evidence.

In submissions to the court, Mr Bowman said that his client has had difficulties with drug addiction and anger issues. He fully accepts he should not have taken the law into his own hands but, counsel said, his actions were "emotional rather than calculated" and arose from "distress and concern for his immediate family".

He said Cunningham had a difficult upbringing, has mental health problems and began using cannabis, cocaine and alcohol at a young age. On the day of the assault he had consumed all three.

He has addressed his drug problems while in custody since 2019, counsel said, and having missed out on important family events now wants to be a part of his child's life.

Mr Bowman said a probation report stated that Cunningham would benefit from a structured release programme and asked the judge to consider that he took responsibility for his wrongdoing and did not take back his offer to plead guilty after finding out that Fitzsimons would not testify.

Ms Justice Eileen Creedon will sentence Cunningham next Monday.

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