By Eoghan MacConnell.
The exceptional bravery of a 10 year-old boy who clung to the window of a moving jeep to rescue his sister was commended at Portlaoise Circuit Court today.
The boy's brave actions were outlined during the sentencing hearing of Michael Martin(36) of Shandon Court, Yellow Road, Waterford city. He pleaded guilty to the false imprisonment of the 11 year-old girl following an incident at Cullohill, Co Laois on March 4 last.
Garda Anne Marie Deegan told prosecuting counsel Will Fennelly that the 11 year-old girl and her brothers, twin 10 year-old boys, were playing at a rural location in Cullohill when they were approached by man driving a jeep. The court heard the girl "was picked up and put into the SUV through the drivers door across the passenger seat."
The man then attempted to drive away but one of the brothers "ran up reached in and attempted to strike the driver in the vehicle." The boy then continued "hanging off" the jeep with his feet off the ground.
When the jeep slowed, the youngster got off the vehicle and initially continued his pursuit on foot. However, he returned home when he noticed his sister and brother running in the direction of a house.
Garda Deegan said the three children were able to give a description and provide a partial registration of the jeep. Mr Fennelly said "a large amount of garda resources and manpower was deployed to locating this vehicle and driver." CCTV footage was taken from nearby business
and residences and gardai became aware of an earlier report of a similar vehicle acting suspiciously at Durrow.
Mr Martin was arrested the following day when the vehicle was stopped outside Castlecomer and he was brought to Portlaoise for questioning.
He admitted to stealing the jeep but "at no time during these interviews did he admit that it was he who attempted to abduct this child," the court was told.
Both girl and her brother later identified the defendant in two separate identity parades at Portlaoise Garda Station. Mr Martin pleaded guilty to false imprisonment in July.
Garda Deegan described the siblings as "exceptional children" and Mr Fennelly agreed that "they were obviously very courageous children" and he commended the "plucky" brother. Garda Deegan also praised the local community for their assistance in the investigation.
A victim impact statement compiled by the girl's father said "this man stole a significant portion of her innocence." The incident had affected her confidence and "our lives were permanently changed that day," he stated. "You don't like to see your children being fearful of everyday ordinary things," the father added.
The court heard Mr Martin, who is originally from Dublin, has 92 previous convictions. The majority of the convictions are for fraud, robbery but also included a conviction for an assault of a girl, threatening to kill or cause serious harm to a woman and in another incident, false imprisonment.
Defending, Una Ní Raifeartaigh SC handed the judge a detailed 16 page psychological report on her client. "His childhood makes for grim reading," she explained. Her client left school at 12 and had been subjected to sexual, physical abuse and sustained neglect as a child and had begun abusing alcohol before leaving school, said Ms Ní Raifeartaigh. He had "an abusive dysfunctional childhood without any love in it," she remarked.
Ms Ní Raifeartaigh said her client has a very low IQ and was diagnosed with mild mental handicap. As he sobbed in court, she described him as "actively suicidal" and asked that some counselling or therapy be included in the sentence in the public interest.
She acknowledged the false imprisonment conviction from 2004 and explained her client had struck up a relationship with a girl in her mid teens when he was in his 20s. The pair went to Northern Ireland, but after four days "they came back down on the train and were met by Gardai at Connolly Station." She pointed out that there were no charges of assault or sexual assault arising from the incident.
Ms Ní Raifeartaigh admitted "what did happen was a very shocking snatching of a child." However, she said the court isn't entitled to speculate on what might have happened. "They did get away and that will thankfully mitigate the affects on the children," she added.
Judge Keenan Johnson commended the Garda Deegan and the Gardai for their police work. "I would like to commend her and her colleagues for the excellent work they did," he remarked. He remanded Mr Martin in custody to appear again next Thursday when sentencing continues.