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Father-of-four who fired gun at halting site and could be heard saying 'I'll kill you all' has been jailed for six years

Quilligan had denied all the charges against him.

Image: PA

A FATHER-OF-four who discharged a firearm at a Co Offaly halting site and could be heard saying “I’ll kill you all, man, woman or child and I’ll blow your brains out” has been jailed for six years.

Passing sentence on Simon Quilligan today, Mr Justice Michael MacGrath said “a rather horrifying picture of the events” had been provided to the court of children, who ranged in ages from ten months up to six years, taking cover under a caravan. “I have little doubt that this was an extremely frightening event for all present at the site,” he said, adding that people in their caravans and passersby were “terrorised” by what they had seen.

The judge refused to impose a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years on the accused man saying that there was “evidence of hope” that a relationship between the two feuding families could be fostered into the future.

The Central Criminal Court previously heard that “bad blood going back awhile” had existed between the Quilligan and McDonagh families but it “was all in the past now”.

Simon Quilligan went on the run after the attack for 19 months before he was eventually extradited back from the UK. In a letter of apology to the victim’s family, Quilligan said: “I cannot express how sorry I am. I wish to continue the family relationship between the Quilligans and McDonagh families.”

Following a trial at the Central Criminal Court last December, the jury found Quilligan not guilty of attempting to murder John McDonagh at Ardan Way, Tullamore, Co Offaly on May 5, 2018.

He was also found not guilty of intentionally or recklessly engaging in conduct, namely, the discharge of a firearm, which created a substantial risk of death or serious harm to another.

He was further found not guilty of making a threat to Melissa Cowman, intending the said Melissa Cowman to believe it would be carried out, to kill or cause serious harm to Victoria Doherty.

However, the jurors found Quilligan guilty of possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life on the same occasion. He was also found guilty of making a threat to Sandra O’Brien and Victoria Doherty, intending them to believe it would be carried out, to kill or cause them serious harm on the same occasion.

The defendant was further found guilty of damaging property, to wit, a window of Victoria Doherty’s caravan, intending to damage such property or being reckless as to whether such property would be damaged on the same date.

Quilligan (38), with an address at Blackberry Lane, Athlone, Co Westmeath had denied the seven charges.

Before delivering the sentence today, Mr Justice MacGrath said Quilligan had driven a UK vehicle to an unofficial halting site, issued threats to several people before discharging a firearm on a number of occasions.

Mr McDonagh was picking up rubbish with a number of children at the time and “a rather horrifying picture of events” had been provided to the court in which the children had taken cover under a caravan, he said.

The court heard that three females and nine children, ranging in ages from ten months up to six years, were present in the vicinity at the time.

The judge said Ms O’Brien had described one child as being “the colour of death”, when he emerged from the caravan as he was so frightened. “I have little doubt that this was an extremely frightening event for all present at the site,” he said, adding that he was satisfied that Quilligan had attempted to conceal his weapon under a cloth, which had proved unsuccessful.

The judge also remarked today that neither Ms O’Brien nor Ms Doherty wished to provide victim impact statements to the court. However, he said Wayne McDonagh’s wife, Victoria Doherty, had testified at the accused’s sentence hearing that she had no harsh feelings towards Quilligan and she looked forward to continuing good relations with him.

Referring to the accused’s wife, the judge noted that she had written a letter to the court explaining that one of their children had health difficulties and another child suffered from psychological issues.

She said the accused was a great father, supportive of their family in every way and he wanted to rekindle his relationship with the McDonaghs. The court heard she suffers from depression and had difficulty coping with four young children on her own.

In a letter of apology to the victim’s family, the judge said the accused’s wished to continue the family relationship between the Quilligans and the McDonaghs and said he was “extremely sorry from the bottom of my heart” to the McDonagh family, his own family and everyone involved in the case.

Mr Justice MacGrath said an issue had arisen concerning whether Quilligan was in possession of a weapon that was capable of discharging live rounds or whether it was an air pistol.

However, he said prosecution counsel Sean Gillane SC had submitted that the Firearms Act did not distinguish between different types of firearms. The judge said any doubt concerning the firearm must be resolved in favour of the accused.

He said Mr McDonagh had given evidence that the sound of the firearm, which was never recovered, was “just like air” and had described the gun to gardai as being just like an airgun.

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The judge said forensic tests on Quilligan and his car did not reveal any firearm residue but the court must be conscious of the evidence from forensic scientist Dr John O’Shaughnessy that these particles can be lost through movement, hand washing and dissipate over time. He also said Dr O’Shaughnessy was satisfied that a hole in a nearby road-sign was caused by a bullet and not an air rifle but it was difficult to date the bullet hole.

The judge said “evidence of hope” that a relationship between the two families can be fostered into the future could be regarded as one of these exceptional circumstances specific to the offence and it would therefore be unjust to impose a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years on the accused. However, he said the court must also take into account the harm caused to society by the unlawful use of firearms.

He said the aggravating factors were the defendant’s 38 previous convictions, which spanned over twenty years in this jurisdiction and four other separate jurisdictions. He said of some “considerable concern to the court” was his conviction for the illegal transport of weapons in the city of Ghent in Belgium.

Another aggravating factor in the case was the fact that people in their caravans and passersby were “terrorised” by what they had seen, he said.

The judge set the headline sentence at ten years imprisonment.

In mitigation, the judge noted the accused’s apology, the letter written by Mrs Quilligan and the family circumstances. He said the court must also take into account the interpretation of the jury’s verdict and would therefore reduce the headline sentence from ten years to eight years.

He said the court must also have regard to the accused’s rehabilitation and the added hardship of serving a sentence during the Covid-19 pandemic. Some incentive must also be given to the defendant that his desire for better relations between the two families “can bear fruit”, he indicated.

Mr Justice MacGrath sentenced Quilligan to eight years imprisonment with the final two years suspended.

He was also sentenced to two years imprisonment on each of the two counts of threats to kill or cause serious harm and six months for criminal damage. The man’s sentences are to run concurrently and were backdated to December 11, 2019.

About the author:

Alison O'Riordan

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