Man sabotaged toll to highlight fire concerns

Tony Rochford was at the end of his tether when he climbed the toll gantry on the M50 and cut wires on the system. It was 9.30pm on June 16, 2017.

Man sabotaged toll to highlight fire concerns

Tony Rochford was at the end of his tether when he climbed the toll gantry on the M50 and cut wires on the system. It was 9.30pm on June 16, 2017.

Earlier that day, he had gone to the gardaí with evidence of what he believed was a possible crime.

He had acquired documents relating to the 2002 fire at the Verdemont complex, in which two people died. Rochford was working in the complex, as a tiler, at the time of the fire.

He had started his own tiling business in 1997, and his experience in Verdemomt had led him to believe there were fire-safety defects there.

He had been in touch with the family of Louise Wall, through Facebook, after he began investigating the aftermath of the fire. He had sympathy for their plight: They believed their daughter’s death could have been avoided.

He had researched the case and acquired the file from the inquest into the two deaths. In May 2017, the second fire had occurred in Verdemont. On June 14, the fire in the Grenfell Tower in London had heightened his fears about fire safety in Irish construction, in general, and at Verdemont in particular.

On the afternoon of June 16, he went first to the garda station in Blanchardstown, with what he believed was a file of evidence. They referred him to Garda HQ, in the Phoenix Park.

From there, he was referred to Cabra station, which, in turn, told him to turn around and head back to Blanchardstown. A court would later hear that he felt he was getting “the runaround”.

So Rochford decided to create a splash. He climbed up the gantry on the M50, as the cars and trucks whizzed by underneath.

He cut the wires and did damage to sensors and cameras and he filmed videos to be uploaded to Facebook.

At a minimum, the incident placed Rochford’s own life in danger and arguably endangered the lives of motorists.

A staff member spotted him and the gardaí were called. Up in the gantry, with his legs dangling out of one of the doors, Rochford threatened to throw himself down on the oncoming traffic, if anybody attempted to enter the gantry.

The north-bound carriage was closed for three hours, as the gardaí swung into action.

Garda Gemma Collins spoke to Rochford and, presently, he consented to her entering the gantry. He told her what he was protesting about. She eventually persuaded him to come down and he was arrested.

On June 1, 2018, Tony Rochford appeared before Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. He pleaded guilty to criminal damage.

“This is very much an exceptional case, very much an exceptional man, and very much exceptional circumstances,” defending counsel Roisin Lacey told the court.

Judge Martin Nolan heard that the loss of earnings as a result of the toll system being down for 26 hours was estimated at €162,807.

Further loss of earnings, and repair to the damage, was estimated to be €416,000.

Sergeant Robert Griffin told Ms Lacey that the offence was “some kind of act of desperation to attract media attention to a cause he was passionate about”.

In imposing sentence, Judge Nolan said that Rochford seemed to be a committed person and that many people had good things to say about him.

However, he had no complaints with eFlow, yet had caused them considerable harm, having acted with malice and forethought.

The judge said he was taking into account Rochford’s motivation and circumstances and imposed a two-and-a-half year prison sentence.

Outside the court, a group of Rochford’s supporters held a protest. Among them was Margaret Wall.

During the hearing, Louise’s mother had submitted a character reference for Rochford.

Taking standard remission into account, the convicted man may be eligible for parole late this year.

More in this section