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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 23 May, 2019
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Man who was cleared of murdering former soldier is jailed for stabbing another man on same night

Gary Watson was convicted by a jury last February.

Image: RollingNews.ie

A 32-YEAR old Dubliner who was cleared of murder but found guilty of stabbing another man after a row over a noisy house party has been jailed for three years.

Justice Michael White said that while the defendant was subjected to “extreme provocation” on the night, he had a knife in his possession and was “prepared to use it”. 

Furthermore, the judge called it “nonsense” that the father-of-three had told a psychologist that he had thought no more about the incident, after a young man had lost his life.  

Gary Watson, with an address at Millbrook Avenue, Kilbarrack, Dublin 13 was convicted by a jury last February of assaulting Philip Woodcock (34) causing him harm as well as producing a knife on January 16, 2010. He had denied both charges.

However, Watson was acquitted of murdering former soldier Warren O’Connor (24) on the same occasion at Hole in the Wall Road, Donaghmede, Dublin 13. Mr O’Connor died from a single stab wound to the neck and the knife’s blade was found “partially impaled” in his body. Watson had also pleaded not guilty to that charge and all the verdicts were unanimous.

‘Fine young man’

The two-week trial at the Central Criminal Court heard that a fight ensued between two groups of men after Mr Woodcock removed a fuse and cut power to his neighbour’s apartment so that a noisy house party would end and the occupants would leave.

The trial also heard that one group – which included Mr Woodcock and the deceased Mr O’Connor – left Grattan Wood apartment complex in a Ford Focus car on the night before it was rammed by another group – which included Watson – in a black Honda Civic car.

Following this, Mr Woodcock got out of his car and ran towards the other car where he was approached by Watson, who was carrying a knife and stabbed him [Mr Woodcock] in the shoulder.

Watson was sentenced to three years in prison for the assault causing harm charge and three years for production of the knife.

The sentences are to run concurrently and were backdated to December 18, 2017.

Passing sentence today, Justice White said a tragic set of events had occurred on January 16, 2010 when a “fine young man” had lost his life.

There was no doubt that Watson was subjected to “severe provocation” on the night when he went to a house party in Donaghmede, said the judge.

“There was some noise at the party but I don’t think undue noise,” commented Justice White, adding that Mr Woodcock had acted in a “very bad way” on the night.

The judge said Mr Woodcock became annoyed about noise coming from the party next door and “took the law into his own hands” by ringing up his friends and asking them to come over. 

“Out of loyalty, they came,” he commented, adding that one of these friends was Mr O’Connor who had acted as “a peacemaker” on the night.

‘Very serious punch’

Justice White said that when matters had calmed down, Mr Woodcock delivered a “very serious punch” to Watson in an “unprovoked way” and then administered “a beating” to the driver of the Honda Civic. The issue then developed “out onto the street”, he indicated.

If the driver of the Honda Civic had just driven off after the incident in the apartment block that would have been the end of it but he decided not to do that, said the judge. However, the judge pointed out that Watson was not responsible for the driver’s actions.

Mr Woodcock was “straight up” with the court that he had administered a “serious beating” to the driver of the Honda Civic car when it crashed into his car, which was carrying his partner and child. 

Self-defence would not have been open to Watson as a defence as he was not in personal danger at the time, commented the judge.

Justice White said he accepted Mr Woodcock’s evidence that Watson was intent on causing serious injury to him. “Mr Woodcock said that as he threw a punch, Watson brought the knife down,” he recounted. 

An aggravating factor was that Watson had a knife on the night and was prepared to use it, he said. “Luckily Mr Woodcock was not in any way seriously injured as a result of the engagement with Watson,” he remarked.

Referring to Watson, the judge said he had been “out of control” and engaged in “drunk and disorderly behaviour” between 17 and 18 years of age. 

‘Deplorable way’

Watson has 65 previous convictions dating back to 2002, with the most recent being recorded in the UK in 2014. They are mostly for road traffic offences, but there are also convictions for dangerous driving, possession of a knife, criminal damage and public order offences.

However, the judge said that it is clear from psychological reports and letters handed into the court that Watson is now a “changed man” and a “responsible father”.

Justice White said he was “annoyed” by a comment that Watson had made to a psychologist in a report about the night in question. “He said he had been on a visit to Dublin to see his family, …..he returned to London and got on with his life and thought no more about it,” remarked the judge.

Justice White called it “nonsense” to say that Watson had thought no more about the incident after a young man had lost his life. 

“In the aftermath of events, Watson acted cowardly and he certainly did not go out of his way to assist matters,” said the judge.

The court had heard that Watson returned to the North, where he had been living, that evening. Gardaí subsequently learned that he was living in London. He was arrested there on foot of a European Arrest Warrant in December 2017 and consented to return to face the three charges.

The judge said that the main mitigating factor in the case was the “extreme provocation” that Watson was subjected to on the night as Mr Woodcock had acted in a “deplorable way” in which he had seriously assaulted the defendant.

“Watson didn’t set out to do harm that night and I fully accept his apology to the court and his remorse,” he concluded. 

The headline sentence in relation to both offences was five years in prison.

Earlier, prosecuting counsel Mary Rose Gearty SC informed the court that contact had been made with Mr Woodcock in relation to compensation and he was “amenable” to receiving the sum of money for his children’s benefit.

Last week, the court heard that Watson had written a letter of apology to Mr Woodcock and was offering £1,500 (€1715) in compensation.

The court today directed that the money be paid to Mr Woodcock.

Sentence hearing

At last Friday’s sentence hearing, Detective Garda Donal O’Connell summarised the facts of the case.

Det Gda O’Connell testified that Mr Woodcock, an apprentice electrician at the time, was living with his pregnant partner and their child in an apartment in Grattan Wood, Donaghmede.

He told James Dwyer SC, prosecuting, that his neighbour had some people around for her birthday and Mr Woodcock decided to deal with noise from next door by removing a fuse from a fuse box. He later decided to call into the apartment about the continuing noise, first getting assistance from friends.

There was an altercation between Mr Woodcock and his friends on one side and two men from the party on the other, and knives were produced.

People from both sides later got into separate cars and left the complex. There was a collision and both cars spun to a halt on the road. Mr Woodcock got out of his car and ran towards the other car. He said he was approached by a man with a knife, who stabbed him in his shoulder.

“That was the defendant, Gary Watson,” agreed Det Gda O’Connell.

Mr O’Connor was fatally stabbed on the same road around that time.

Det Gda O’Connell agreed that Mr Woodcock had given evidence at trial but was now living in Canada and had elected not to attend the sentence hearing. He was happy for Mr Dwyer to read his victim impact statement into the record.

Mr Woodcock wrote that he had spoken with a psychotherapist after the incident, and that this had helped him a lot. He had also spoken with a therapist in Canada, who claimed he could be suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

“I was no longer the same person to my partner and children,” he wrote. “It was better I left them to get on with their lives rather than them dealing with my PTSD.”

Anne-Marie Lawlor SC, defending, reminded the judge that Mr Woodcock had knocked Mr Watson unconscious during the first altercation and had accepted that the purpose of leaving his car was to ‘beat the bo***x out of people’ in the other car.

“This is not an isolated, unexplained, unprovoked exhibition of aggression,” she said.

Ms Lawlor also pointed out that her client’s last conviction in this country was recorded when he was 18.

She said that he now had a partner and three children in England, to whom he would return once released from prison.

“The court is sentencing a 32-year-old for events that happened when he was 23,” she said, handing in letters from his family and the chaplain in Cloverhill Prison.

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About the author:

Alison O'Riordan

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