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Suspended sentence for violent assault on ex-partner overturned

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A man is facing 18 months in prison for assaulting his former partner and threatening her with a knife at their home after the Court of Appeal ruled the original suspended sentence he was given was unduly lenient.

Stephen Connor (43), a father of one of Tuam, Kilrooskey, Co Roscommon, will be jailed after the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) successfully appealed the decision of Judge John Aylmer to fully suspend a 2½ year sentence imposed at Letterkenny Circuit Criminal Court last November.

Connor, a trained accountant who works as a bricklayer, had pleaded guilty in July 2019 to one count of assault causing harm, one count of false imprisonment and one count of producing a knife in the course of a dispute during an incident at a house at Forwell, Letterkenny, Co Donegal on May 5th, 2018.

Gardaí­ who called to the house met Connor’s victim, Bríd Pierce, whom they said was dishevelled and visibly injured. Ms Pierce showed gardaí a zip-locked bag containing some of her hair which she said was ripped from her head by Connor.

The couple lived together from January 2018 until March 2018, when the relationship ended but Connor continued to live in the house as a tenant. On the morning of the incident Ms Pierce asked Connor to leave the house and return his key after a disagreement over the non-payment of rent and bills.

Forced entry

When he returned to the house that evening, Connor forced his way through the front door after being told he no longer lived there.

The Court of Appeal heard Connor picked up a small knife, saying “this isn’t a knife,” before picking up a bread knife and saying “this is a knife”.

Connor proceeded to throw things around the kitchen before knocking a phone out of Ms Pierce’s hand and pushing her up against a cooker while making stabbing actions to her face and head. He then held her in a corner and began banging her head against a press.

As Ms Pierce tried to make for the door, he caught her and started punching her in the face with a closed fist until she fell to the ground. Connor only stopped the assault after he punched Ms Pierce so hard that he lost his balance and fell over, which enabled her to escape.

Connor, who admitted to being extremely drunk, called to Letterkenny Garda station within 20 minutes of the incident to report his role in the assault.

Counsel for the DPP, Fiona Crawford BL, claimed the decision of the sentencing judge to fully suspend the sentence constituted a significant departure from the norm for such offending behaviour given the judge had described the incident as “a protracted and fairly brutal onslaught”.

Discretion

Opposing the appeal, counsel for Connor, Róisín Lacey SC, argued that the sentence had fallen within the legitimate range of a sentencing judge’s discretion.

Outlining the court of appeal’s ruling, Ms Justice Úna Ní­ Raifeartaigh, sitting with Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy, said it was clear from Ms Pierce’s victim impact statement that the attack had a severe and lasting impact on her.

The court ruled that the sentencing judge had erred in principle by placing too much weight on mitigating factors in Connor’s favour including handing himself into gardaí­ and an early guilty plea.

Ms Justice Ní­ Raifeartaigh said the appropriate custodial sentence would be 2½ years. However, as it was the court’s practice to exercise extra clemency where a person’s sentence was converted from being fully suspended to a custodial one on appeal, she said the final year of the sentence would be suspended.

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