A five-year sentence, with 15 months suspended, has been imposed on a Kildare man who robbed a woman of her car at gunpoint in Ballylinan.
Detective Garda Mark Russell gave evidence at the recent circuit court, led by State prosecutor, Mr Will Fennelly, that the injured party, a 27-year-old woman, pulled her car into the Centra store at Main Street Ballylinan on December 9, 2013, to let her mother go in and buy milk. While she was sitting in the car the door opened and a man pointed a gun at her, twice telling her to get out. She was in a state of shock and the man told her to get out or else he’d blow her head off. She got out and the man drove away at speed.
A witness to the crime told gardaí he recognised the culprit and identified him as James Rowan.
Two search warrants were obtained by gardaí for two different known addresses for Rowan, and he was located at 1494 Castle Park, Kildangan, Co. Kildare. A camouflaged balaclava similar to one described by witnesses was also found, and the Toyota key to the stolen car was recovered in his garden.
He was arrested and denied the offence at first, but after six interviews he admitted his involvement. He told the gardaí he had been in trouble with individuals over a drug debt and had been dropped off at Ballylinan and handed a replica gun, with orders given that he was to wait for the first easy target and rob a car.
Dec Russell told the court that due to Rowan’s considerable heroin consumption, which saw him consuming ten bags of the drug a day, he had fallen into considerable debt and had no choice but to comply.
The stolen car was recovered burnt out in Kildangan, just half a mile from Rowan’s house. Rowan told gardaí that he had handed the car over to a third party, but Dec Russell said he believed Rowan had not handed the car over. The value of the car was up to €6,000. Dec Russell also said that Rowan had already handed over the firearm.
Dec Russell said the injured party in the case was a very strong individual who had suffered no long-term effects from the incident. She gave a victim impact statement in which she said that she cried for all of the next week after the incident, and has been left more nervous and cautious.
“I am glad it happened to me and not my mother; it was my mother’s car and it could so easily have happened to her,” she said. “I am so glad he didn’t sit in the car and tell me to drive.”
While acknowledging that the incident has had a wider effect on her family and boyfriend, the woman said: “It hasn’t stopped me getting on with my everyday life.”
Rowan had 32 previous convictions, including thefts, robberies, criminal damage, assault causing harm and drugs.
Defence for Rowan was Mr Kelly.
Mr Kelly said that the objective of the crime had been to secure a car for a third party, who had put Rowan under pressure. He told the court that someone else drove the car, crashed it and burnt out, before coming to Rowan’s house to plant the car key in Rowan’s garden.
“It seems a little bit foolhardy and stupid to have brought the key home,” said Mr Kelly.
Dec Russell said he accepted that. The detective also accepted defence’s claims that Rowan had left himself open to being put under pressure, and there was a particular danger to him and his family.
Mr Kelly said that drug dealers had deliberately allowed Rowan’s debts to build up in order to create “a stooge”. He said that Rowan has completed drug rehabilitation in prison, and is now off methadone.
“It’s a cycle: if you take the drugs you’re going to have to rob to pay for them,” Judge Petria McDonnell told Rowan. “You have five children who deserve a better father. The victim was clearly traumatised, and while she’s made the best of it she has changed. While you didn’t physically assault her, the psychological damage can sometimes be worse.”
The judge imposed a five-year sentence, to run from December 14, 2013, the date Rowan went into custody. She suspended 15 months of the sentence on condition Rowan engage with the probation services and remain drug free.