A lost drug shipment was suspected of sparking the appalling violence that resulted in a hard-working and loving family “losing everything”.
Detectives gathered information suggesting the gang behind the aggravated burglary of Emma and Mark Corcoran’s home in rural Tipperary almost two years ago needed to recoup money to get their drug business back on track.
John Joyce and his brother Patrick, relations of a notorious family network from Coolock, north Dublin, were the suspected leaders of the seven-man gang, all but one aged just 19 or 20.
One of other men, Michael McDonagh, is going out with a sister of the Joyces.
It is thought the gang got information, either from local criminals or through some kind of business interaction, that the Corcorans, who ran a gym equipment business, had money — mistakenly as it turned out.
“The gang were not really known as a burglary gang, but were a very serious criminal gang involved in the distribution of drugs,” said one Garda source.
Yesterday, at the sentencing, it emerged that between them, the seven had 315 previous convictions. John Joyce had 55 and Patrick had 16. Patrick Gately, from Darndale, Coolock, had 85. Like John Joyce, he had drug supply convictions. A fourth, Dean Byrne, from Cabra, had 120. Thomas Flynn, from Coolock, had 20 convictions and was on bail for firearms possession.
The gang planned their operation. The day before, they bought walkie-talkies in the Omni Centre, Santry.
Flynn acquired a Saab which, along with a Volkswagen Passat, carried the seven men down the M7 overnight on November 20, 2013.
They came heavily armed, brandishing a machete, a handgun, and a sawn-off shotgun.
Judge Thomas Teehan likened them to “an army of sinister-looking intruders”.
Following the break-in, Emma’s prompt 999 call was important.
A quick-acting garda, Katie Kelleher at Thurles Station, received the call but didn’t have an address.
She typed the mobile number coming up on the display into the Garda Pulse system.
Because Emma had a previous — and innocent — dealing with the police, they had her mobile number, and as a result, her address.
Garda Kelleher dispatched cars to the house and also put a general alert out, mobilising units.
The 999 call was horrific, according to gardaí, as the screaming of the children and the shouting of the criminals could be heard, including threats to Emma that they would cut her feet off and kill her kids.
The two getaway cars were spotted travelling at speed on the M7.
An Organised Crime Unit patrol intercepted the Passat at Naas.
Thanks to a call from a witness in Monasterevin, regarding a suspicious Kia Sorrento, which the gang stole from the Corcorans, gardaí cornered it.
There were no admissions and gardaí began assembling their evidence.
They gathered the footage from the Omni Centre. The transfer of ownership form of the Saab car had Flynn’s fingerprint on it.
They gathered evidence of the cars and from seized mobile phones showing contact between the two cars.
Shortly after the toll plaza, the Saab broke down and all seven travelled in the Passat, during which time there was no mobile traffic. After they stole a Nissan in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, the phone traffic resumed.
When the cars were intercepted, gardaí found stolen property from the Corcoran house and a matching sum of money.
The team got DNA from Mr Corcoran on the shoes of Byrne and Gately, as well as glass particles which provided strong evidence they were in the house.
All seven entered guilty pleas, Byrne and Gately last.
Gardaí welcomed the sentences yesterday.
“The sentences send a very clear message that there is no place for people like these, who go around terrorising,” said a garda.
But he said it was “not possible to estimate the physical and psychological damage” to the Corcorans.
The family has spent up to €30,000 on home security systems.
In his victim impact statement, Mark Corcoran said: “My kids saw and heard things that night that no child should ever go through.”
Emma said: “I have lost everything because of what they did — my home, my car, my business, and my children’s innocence.”
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