A 21-year-old man who bundled a pensioner into the boot of his car while she was out walking early on a winter’s morning has been jailed for six years.
On Tuesday the court heard through the 70-year-old woman’s victim statement that she looked into Martin Gallagher’s face as “I lay in that boot. I was afraid for my life.”
She was walking along a Dublin Street around 7.30am on a January morning when Gallagher grabbed her from behind and threw her into the open boot of his parked vehicle.
He made several attempts to close the boot on the woman, slamming it onto her shins but she continued to sit back up and he failed to shut it.
Gallagher then pulled the woman out of the boot and attempted to put her into the front of the car but she continued to fight him off and scream. He ultimately threw her against a wall, smashing her head off it before he sped off in the vehicle.
Gallagher later told gardaí in interview that the attack was “a joke that went wrong”.
He said he had been drinking all the previous day and he had mistaken the woman as she walked by for his friend “Alex”. He said he thought it would be funny to give Alex a fright and throw him into the boot of his car. He got a fright when he realised the person was a girl and said he pushed her to one side.
Anne-Marie Lawlor SC, defending Gallagher, said her client has a very limited intellectual capacity and was “intoxicated to an extraordinary extent” that morning. She said he is “desperately sad for what he has done” and he knows he “has to take the medicine” from the court.
Gallagher of Rusheeny Avenue, Hartstown, Dublin 15 pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to assault causing harm and false imprisonment at Blackhorse Avenue, Dublin on January 6, 2020. He has one previous conviction for speeding.
Judge Martin Nolan had adjourned the case overnight to allow him time to consider it.
He said on Wednesday that this was “a terrifying experience” for the woman and the man attempted to “kidnap” her. He said it seems it is “a pretty sinister crime” and that “we do not know what was going on in his mind”.
Judge Nolan said he found Gallagher's explanation for the crime “implausible” and disregarded it.
He noted that the accused is at a low-level of intellectual ability, but said there is no doubt that the accused “is bright enough to know the difference between right and wrong”.
He said Gallagher deserved “a pretty long” time in custody and sentenced him to six years imprisonment.
After passing sentence, Judge Nolan told the woman, who was present in court, that she “behaved very bravely” and he thinks she surprised the accused with her “resilience and strength”. He said he hoped she got over the incident and wished her luck.
Detective Sergeant Maeve Ward was nominated by the woman to read out her victim impact statement in which she said that her life changed that day in a way that she never thought it would.
The former swimming teacher, who was acting as full-time carer for her husband who had been suffering from dementia, would regularly get up early to go for a walk before her husband would wake. Her husband died in October last year.
She said that God was on her side that day and he knew that she had to get out of the car boot. She said she can still to this day feel the pain from being thrown to the ground by Gallagher before he sped off in the car.
She said she still has scars on her shins from where he repeatedly tried to slam the boot on her and her face was left “black and blue” from the struggle.
For a long time, she could not walk because of the pain in her shin bones and she had internal bruising in her chest from Gallagher trying to push her back into the boot.
The woman said when she walks outside now “my heart jumps” every time a runner goes by. She suffers from nightmares.
She described Gallagher as waiting for her to walk past before he grabbed her from behind.
Referring to a passing motorist who stopped his car after he saw Gallagher struggling with what he thought was a child at the car, she said “only God knows what could have happened if that man had not seen my legs”.
The woman said that “every day life is only a vision of what I was” and added that she suffers flashbacks many times a day.
She said her son returned home from abroad to care for both her and her husband as she was no longer able to meet the man’s needs.
“He (her husband) didn’t know why I was crying all the time. He was only used to seeing me smiling. I would play him music and he would give me the thumbs up,” the woman continued.
She described being happy before the attack, saying that she was a wife, a mother and a grandmother. She said she was a fit woman, having previously been a swimming teacher and was doing 10km walks and 2km swims before the attack. She said her level of fitness was the reason she “got out of that car boot”.
“He took me from behind. I looked into his face as I lay in that boot. I was afraid for my life,” she concluded her statement.
Detective Garda Paul Kirwan told Antonia Boyle BL, prosecuting, that he got a call to attend at the woman’s home and arrived at 7.45am on the morning of the attack. The motorist who had stopped his vehicle, Eric Doran, had taken the woman home.
Det Gda Kirwan took a statement from the woman but when she started to experience some pain an ambulance was called for her and she was taken to hospital.
She was later treated in accident and emergency for various bruising and a cut above her right eye was closed with skin glue. Her observations were considered normal and she was discharged with head injury advice.
Before the woman left for the hospital, she gave gardaí a grey top that she had taken from the boot of Gallagher’s car. Gardaí also took finger nail scrapings from her and kept her clothes for forensic analysis.
Gallagher’s DNA was later found in those scrapings. Cotton fibres matching the clothes Gallagher had been wearing were found on her clothing, allowing forensic scientists to conclude there was “moderate support” to the fact that Gallagher and the victim had been in a struggle.
Mr Doran told gardaí that he had been driving on Blackhorse Avenue when he saw a car with its boot open.
He was later able to provide gardaí with a description of the car and a number of digits and letters from the registration plate.
He said he saw a man and thought he was in a struggle with a child. He heard a lot of screaming and although he had driven passed, he decided to reverse his vehicle back before he saw the man get into the vehicle and drive off at speed.
Mr Doran then spotted the woman on the footpath, went to her assistance and called gardaí.
Det Gda Kirwan said that same evening gardai spotted a car matching Mr Doran’s description and bearing some of the digits from the registration plate details he had provided. Gardaí spoke with Gallagher, who was in the driver’s seat, and took him in for questioning.
He denied the allegations and claimed he had gone to bed the previous night at 8pm and had not got up until 4.30pm that day. He said that injuries that the gardaí noticed on his arm were due to “a domestic” with his girlfriend.
Det Gda Kirwan said Gallagher was arrested again two days later after the forensic results confirmed that his DNA was found under the woman’s fingernails.
It was at this point that he made admissions claiming that he believed the woman was his friend “Alex” and he had tried to put the person into the boot as a joke.
Gallagher’s girlfriend later confirmed that the hoodie that the woman had taken from the boot of the car belonged to her son and she had put it in the boot after she bought it for him.
Photographs of the injuries sustained by the woman were handed into court.
Ms Lawlor told the court that her client had written a letter of apology to the victim but he knows that he cannot reverse what happened. She said he has “true remorse for what he has done”.
She said it is hoped that the manner in which her client has dealt with the case, in that he had entered an early plea of guilty, would be “something of a solace to her (the victim)”.
Ms Lawlor said a psychological report concluded that Gallagher was “at the very bottom of the scale in terms of his intellectual capacity” and that 98 percent of adults would score higher than him.
She submitted that this would have to be “thrown into the mix with consumption of intoxicants at the time”.
Counsel said that her client was one of eight children, from a family that has never come to garda attention. He suffered a head injury from a car accident when he was between three and five years old “which could have contributed to his intellectual capacity issues,” she said.
Ms Lawlor handed in a number of documents into court and said that Gallagher has been attending an addiction counsellor while on remand and is doing well.