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Two brothers in court over burglary incidents involving elderly pensioners living alone

Newry Courthouse

One of two brothers alleged to have broken into the home of an elderly woman living alone and stealing €95 from her purse before sitting down for a sandwich in her kitchen has been released on bail.

Twenty-nine-year-old Sean McGonnell, who has 99 previous convictions – many of which are for violent offences – appeared before Banbridge Magistrates’ Court, sitting in Newry, via videolink from Banbridge custody suite charged with burglary and aggravated burglary with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

His brother, 23-year-old Paul McGonnell, of Rawes Road in Derrynoose, also appeared on the videolink, charged with aggravated burglary with intent to inflict GBH, possession of an offensive weapon, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, kidnapping and common assault.

The court heard that Sean McGonnell, with an address on the Portadown Road in Armagh, was released on bail due to his role primarily as “a peacemaker” in the original alleged offence.

Detective Constable James Jennings told the court the charges stem from an issue Paul McGonnell had with his older brother, Daniel, at their house on the Rawes Road on Tuesday evening.

A verbal altercation ensued and it is alleged that Paul “lifted a six-inch kitchen knife and had come at him with this knife”.

Daniel rushed out of the house and ran off to the neighbour’s property in a bid to get a phone to alert police.

Det Const. Jennings told the court that the house belonged to an 83-year-old man, who lives on his own, and has known the family all their lives.

“He alleges that Paul and Sean have arrived down at the house and started banging on the front door, basically breaking their way into the house. By this stage Daniel has escaped through the back of the house.”

The allege injured party then goes out the back to let his guard dog out – “that’s how much in fear he was in of these two guys”.

It is alleged that as he goes into the back yard “Paul McGonnell comes out and grabs him by the shirt, trails him back into the house, and in doing so, tears his shirt, causing injuries to his elbow, his hand and his head”.

He then alleges that Paul McConnell held a pitchfork up against his throat and threatens him while demanding money.

Paul McGonnell is arrested back at the family home at approximately 11pm, however, court heard Sean McConnell fled across fields as “he knows the police are going to be coming looking for him”.

Police then received a phone call at approximately four or five o’clock in the morning on the 14th from the third alleged injured party – an 87-year-old woman, who again, lives alone.

She called the police to say that there was somebody downstairs in her house.

Police arrive at this address to find that all the lights were on and the woman has locked herself in her bedroom. She called out to the police from the window to say “there’s somebody still in my house”.

Court was told police discovered Sean McGonnell in the kitchen eating a sandwich, and found €95 euros on his person, which the elderly lady claims was stolen from her purse.

During interview, Sean McGonnell said the money was “for a taxi to get out of the area but had fully intended to pay that money back”.

Det Const. Jennings said police were “absolutely” objecting to bail over concerns of re-offending, given the “extensive” nature of Sean McGonnell’s record, most of which were of a violent nature. He also stated that while Paul’s record was not as extensive, eight of the 10 convictions were violence related. He also raised concerns over the potential for retribution against the older brother.

The Det. Const. also alleged that as he was being charged by a female officer, Sean McGonnell “made a comment to her, sort of under his breath, that she better look under her car”.

This prompted a foul-mouth tirade from the defendant over the videolink who branded the Det Const. “a fool”.

Defence barrister Kevin O’Hare argued that his client made no threats to either alleged injured party and was in fact acting as a peacemaker between his two brothers.

He added that he did not threaten the elderly lady and that the victim was an acquaintance of the family.

Mr O’Hare further argued argued that his client was “borrowing money to get out of this sort of inflamed family situation and at some point he intended to return those funds to her”.

He added that he was “fairly cooperative” with police.

“Of course, Sean McGonnell being Sean manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and in the aftermath of this incident, when obviously police have been called, he thinks to himself ‘from my experience of history, what’s going to happen here is police are going to come, I’m going to be arrested, I’m going to be locked up and I’m not going to get bail’.

“So he heads off, tries to get himself some taxi money to get out of Keady to avoid that whole situation. He obviously could have dealt with that situation better, but it’s not the case that he went to this lady’s house and threatened her or anything like that. It’s not the best way to deal with the situation but his intentions, perhaps, weren’t the absolute worst.”

District Judge Eamon King, in granting bail to Sean McGonnell, said: “It’s been explained that because of the circumstances he finds himself, he’s anticipating that he’d be locked up for something he was primarily involved in as a peacekeeper, albeit, the manner in which he conducted himself afterwards, particularly as regards the elderly lady, he doesn’t cover himself in glory. I’m prepared to admit him to be subject to conditions.”

Paul McGonnell’s defence barrister, Damien Halleron BL, also applied for bail arguing that his client’s record was a lot better than that of his brother’s and the fact he denies all the charges against him.

He stated: “Paul claims what he did was helping the injured party [who had fallen over] and denies he went armed and the grape was already on the premises.”

Judge King denied bail and remanded Paul McGonnell back into custody. Both men are set to appear before Armagh Magistrates’ Court on July 4.

Sean McGonnell’s bail conditions include a 10pm-7am curfew, to sign in with the police three times a week and to abstain from alcohol.

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