By Ruaidhrí Giblin
One of two men caught “red-handed” with loaded guns at “optimal readiness”, as well as a can of petrol, has had his 12-year prison sentence cut to 11 on appeal.
Anthony Callaghan (45) and Paul Zambra (39) were caught following a three-day surveillance operation by specialist gardaí.
Callaghan, of Millrace Road, Phoenix Park Racecourse, Dublin and Zambra, of Inagh Road, Ballyfermot, Dublin both pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to possession of a Ruger Revolver and semi-automatic pistol with intent to endanger life at Clonshaugh Avenue, Coolock on May 29, 2015.
The men were stopped by gardaí who mounted a surveillance operation in the Coolock area and a search of the BMW driven by Zambra yielded two firearms and a full can of petrol.
Judge Melanie Greally sentenced Callaghan to 12 years imprisonment and Zambra to 10 years imprisonment on March 16, 2016.
Judge Greally said the guns, when discovered by gardaí, were at “optimal readiness for use” and their capacity to endanger life was “considerable”. She accepted there was no evidence as to why the men had the weapons but added: “the venture for their intended use was imminent”.
Callaghan successfully appealed his sentence today and was accordingly resentenced to 11 years imprisonment. Zambra did not seek to appeal.
Giving judgment in the three-judge Court of Appeal, Mr Justice George Birmingham said the sentencing judge had commented in sentencing that a “slight distinction” could be made between Callaghan and Zambra on the basis that Zambra's previous convictions effectively ceased in 2003 and that his earlier convictions were recorded when he was a very young man.
On the other hand, Callaghan's most recent previous convictions, for possessing a firearm under Section 27a of the Firearms Act and for robbery, were recorded in 2008.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the judge was correct, in the court's view, to come to the conclusion that there was a basis for distinguishing between them.
He said a “slight distinction” was appropriate and it would be understandable if Callaghan was left with some sense of grievance with the differentiation of two years.
Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Edwards, said the court would quash Callaghan's 12-year sentence and substitute it with one of 11 years.
He said the Court of Appeal would ordinarily be very slow to intervene by reducing a sentence from 12 to 11 years.
However, in a situation where the Circuit Court judge had said specifically “and we believe correctly” that there was a basis for a slight distinction, the court found it necessary to bring the sentence in closer alignment to Zambra's.
Detective Garda Glen Somers had told Vincent Heneghan SC, prosecuting, that gardaí acting on confidential information mounted a surveillance operation over several days on the movements and activities surrounding a number of vehicles driven variously by Callaghan and Zambra.
On May 29, 2015 gardaí became aware that a white Nissan van driven by Callaghan with Zambra as a front seat passenger was on its way to Coolock. Zambra was dropped off at Clonshaugh Crescent where a blue BMW estate was parked.
Zambra got into the BMW and drove onto Clonshaugh Avenue, in a direction which was in close proximity to the Riverside Estate. Callaghan drove off onto Clonshaugh Road.
Gardaí made tactical stops of both vehicles at about 12.15pm and arrested the men.
Zambra had attempted to drive off after being directed to get out of the car but was boxed in by a squad car. Inside the BMW gardaí recovered a full 5-litre petrol container, a semi-automatic pistol wrapped in newspapers and a revolver wrapped inside a neck warmer.
The semi-automatic pistol had a silencer attached and its safety catch was off. The Ruger Revolver was loaded with five rounds and had its serial numbers drilled off.
Both men exercised their right to silence during garda questioning. Gardaí recovered CCTV from Topaz in Mulhuddart and identified Zambra as the person purchasing the petrol. Both vehicles seized were registered under false names and addresses.