by Paul Neilan
A member of a “mob” who threatened to kill a woman after a “vigilante” gang of men forced their way into her home will have his sentence increased next week, after a successful appeal by the State.
The three-judge Court of Appeal heard on Monday that William Lyons made his way with three others into the home of a woman whose small children and partner were in the house with her at Caherconlish, Co Limerick, on February 17th, 2021.
At a sentencing hearing at Limerick Circuit Criminal Court in November 2021, prosecution lawyers said that Lyons (49) was “suited and booted” alongside a total of ten “vigilantes” when he arrived at Cois Rioga, Caherconlish, at around 6.20pm in the evening.
The sentencing court was told that Lyons of Mount Singland, Garryowen, Limerick, arrived at the house with others who had their faces covered and were carrying pitchforks and hurleys.
In sentencing Lyons to two-and-a-half years’ imprisonment, Judge Tom O’Donnell said the incident “smacked of vigilantism” that was “unacceptable in any civilised society”.
Judge O’Donnell said what happened was “outrageous and premeditated” and was clearly designed to instill fear and intimidate those in the house. Lyons had pleaded guilty to burglary, making a threat to kill and violent disorder.
On Monday at the Court of Appeal, the State successfully appealed against what they submitted was the “unduly lenient” two-and-a-half year jail sentence Lyons received.
Monika Leech BL, for the State, submitted that Judge O’Donnell was too lenient when fixing a pre-mitigation headline sentence of five years’ imprisonment before discounting 18 months due to Lyons’ guilty plea and other mitigating factors.
Ms Leech said Judge O’Donnell then suspended a further year of the sentence to enable rehabilitation and to take into account Lyons’ personal circumstances. Mr Lyons is the sole carer for his children as his wife has serious medical issues.
Ms Leech said the maximum jail-time for burglary is 14 years and that the trial judge erred in identifying five years as a headline sentence as it “failed to reflect the seriousness of the offending” and the “physical and psychological harm done to the victim”.
Ms Leech said a “forceful mob” had turned up at the house and damaged lights and windows with the victim’s “very small baby” suffering small cuts to its forehead from smashed window glass.
Ms Leech said the incident was aggravated because it occurred at a private dwelling and that the respondent had led the “mob” to the house before telling the victim that he would return to her home and kill her. Counsel added that the victim could recognise Lyons as he was not wearing any face covering unlike the other members of the group.
The woman’s partner was in the house at the time and let off a firework in an attempt to push back the three of the gang who gained entry. Lyons and two others then retreated back outside but kept banging on the door.
Ms Leech said that the incident lasted four minutes but had a “detrimental” effect on the victim due to its “intensity”.
Ms Leech said the woman’s partner had been a godparent to one of Lyons’ children and that there had been a breakdown in their relationship.
Counsel added that Lyons had one previous conviction for making a threat to kill dating back to 2007.
Michael Bowman SC, for Lyons, said that while there was no doubt it had been a “deeply unpleasant” experience for the victim, there had been no “substantial departure” made by the sentencing judge in fixing five years as a headline sentence.
Mr Bowman said the trial judge was a “very experienced” one, who was “fully aware” of all the mitigating and aggravating factors in the case. Counsel added that the lower area of the mid-range had been identified by the judge when choosing the headline sentence.
Mr Bowman said that while the incident was “terribly serious” it did not fall outside of the mid-range of offending.
Counsel added that, due to a dispute, it was the woman’s partner who was the actual target of the attack. Mr Bowman said Lyons had five children and a partner in ill health with a prognosis that is “not terribly optimistic” due to her condition “deteriorating markedly”.
Mr Bowman said his client had written a letter expressing his remorse for his actions and had pleaded guilty at an early stage.
Mr Justice John Edwards, presiding, indicated that the court agreed with the State that the sentence had been unduly lenient and said that it would give its reasons next week.
Mr Justice Edwards then adjourned the matter to 10.15am on March 28th for re-sentencing.