DPP v Sidney Sutton

CourtCourt of Appeal (Ireland)
JudgeMr Justice Edwards
Judgment Date25 September 2020
Neutral Citation[2020] IECA 280
Docket NumberRecord No: 187/2019
Date25 September 2020



[2020] IECA 280

Edwards J.

McCarthy J.

Donnelly J.

Record No: 187/2019


JUDGMENT of the Court delivered on the 25th day of September, 2020 by Mr Justice Edwards .

The respondent in this case came before the court on the 20th of June, 2017, charged with four counts of assault contrary to Section 2 of the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act, 1997, one count of assault contrary to Section 3 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against The Person Act, 1997, and one count of production of an article capable of inflicting serious injury, contrary to Section 11 of the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act, 1990.


The respondent pleaded not guilty, and faced trial on the 31st of October, 2017. On the 2nd of November, 2017, the respondent was convicted on all counts by unanimous jury decision.


The sentencing judge imposed a sentence of four months' imprisonment on Counts 1 to 4, being assault contrary to Section 2 of the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act, 1997, and 2 years' imprisonment, the final year of which was suspended on Counts 5 and 6, being assault causing harm and production of an article capable of inflicting serious harm. All sentences were to run concurrently with credit to be given for the days the respondent had previously spent in custody.


The Director of Public Prosecutions now seeks a review of the sentence imposed on grounds of undue leniency.

Background to the matter

The court heard evidence from Garda Samantha Meehan, the investigating officer in the case. She confirmed that at the relevant time the respondent was in a relationship with the complainant, a Ms. Edele Aherne, with whom he shared a residence at 53 Brindley Park Square, Ashbourne, County Meath, together with their twin 5-year old sons. The children were staying elsewhere on the date of the offending.


On the 5th of February, 2016, the parties attended a wedding at the Conyngham Arms Hotel, the reception having commenced mid-afternoon and the celebrations continuing into the early hours of the morning. Over this time, the complainant consumed approximately 4 glasses of Prosecco and 8-9 gin and tonics, whilst the respondent had approximately 10-12 pints of Peroni beer.


The complainant described the respondent as beginning to get “ a bit messy”, and they both left by taxi at approximately 1 a.m. on the 6th of February, 2016.


In the course of the taxi journey, the respondent became aggressive and assaulted the complainant by shoving her head with his hands. This constitutes count number 1 on the Indictment. The court heard evidence from the taxi driver, a Mr O'Brien, who attested to this.


Mr O'Brien recounted how the respondent insisted on ending the journey pre-emptively before they reached their place of residence. The respondent had desired to go to the bathroom. He asked the taxi to pull over for this purpose. After exiting the taxi, the respondent was, in the words of the injured party, “ effing and blinding” and calling her various names such as “ the C word”. He then shoved the head of the complainant against a wall and hit her forehead with his hands. This constitutes count number 2 on the Indictment. The respondent continued to verbally abuse the complainant. The complainant initially hid behind a parked van but ultimately became sufficiently embarrassed that she returned to her front door.


After leaving the scene, the taxi driver subsequently reported the incident to the gardaí.


Upon entering the home, the complainant was punched in or about the face by the respondent. She retreated into the bathroom and was followed by the respondent, who continued to punch and kick her, at one point dragging her to the floor and stamping on her foot and kicking her legs. The complainant pleaded with him to stop, and made explicit reference to her children.


The respondent left the bathroom. The complainant described blood streaming down her face and splattered about the bathroom. She took a shower, attempting to wash away the blood. The respondent then returned to the bathroom, now armed with a knife. The complainant begged the respondent to stop as she sat on the side of the bath, but was stabbed in the right leg. The injured party made an attempt to ring the gardaí, but was intercepted by the respondent taking the phone from her. There was a further struggle, during which the respondent stabbed her or “ got” her on the shoulder. She persisted in trying to push him away, and the respondent dropped the phone. She picked it up and hit the redial button and was able to communicate that she needed help and provide them with her address before the phone was again taken by the respondent. The injured party then described feeling cold and had difficulty remembering what happened between then and the arrival of the gardaí.


What occurred inside the parties' home gave rise to counts 3, 4, and 5 on the Indictment, the stabbing in the bathroom providing the basis for the sole count of assault causing harm, namely count no 5. The circumstances giving rise to the final count on the Indictment, namely count no 6 involving production of an article capable of inflicting serious injury (being the knife which was subsequently used to stab the complainant) are self-evident.


The gardaí initially attended the general area on the basis of the call from the taxi driver, but were unable to locate the exact house due the respondent's insistence that the taxi stop before reaching the house. After a few minutes in the area, they were informed by the dispatcher of the call from the injured party and were given the address. Garda Meehan described the reluctance of the respondent to open the door, and was trying to dissuade them through a glass window, maintaining that everything was normal and that they were not needed. He tried a number of times to dissuade the gardaí from entering, but they persisted.


Upon entering the premises, the gardaí observed extensive bloodstaining on the clothes, and slight grazing on the knuckles, of the respondent, and blood splattered on the hallway walls and up the stairs. The gardaí found the complainant in a distressed state, frantically attempting to clean the blood from the walls of the bathroom. She had several immediately visible injuries including a laceration to her right eye, a black eye, a deep laceration to her right calf and a number of puncture type wounds on her legs and arms.


The complainant was taken by ambulance to James Connolly Memorial Hospital where she was noted to have an entry and exit wound on the lateral aspect of her knee. In addition, bruising was noted about her face and right lower back and lacerations were noted to her right shoulder and over her right eye. The injury to her right knee was explored under general anaesthetic and she was thereafter discharged.


The respondent did not give evidence in the course of the trial. Evidence was called on his behalf from his two sisters, Ms Aisling Sutton and Ms Elaine Mulhern, who described attending the hospital the following day to visit the injured party. They claimed that the injured party blamed herself for saying something to provoke the respondent, and said “ I'm sorry, I'm sorry”. Their accounts also reference the injured party saying: “ look what he did to me”.


Garda Meehan informed the court that the respondent had subsequently reported to the gardaí that the injured party had in fact assaulted him, but there was insufficient evidence to prosecute, and no charges were brought against the injured party.

Impact on Victim

The Court received a Victim Impact Report dated 15th of February, 2018. In it, the complainant describes living in constant apprehension of possible retaliation inflicted by the respondent onto her and her children. She states that the respondent refused to return irreplaceable personal effects. She describes ongoing stress caused by the respondent's denial of any wrongdoing, and ongoing harassment via false complaints made on behalf of the respondent to the gardaí and TUSLA. She believes the respondent is interfering with the ability of her and her children to move on from the incident. In the course of her victim impact statement the complainant refers several times to “ the assault”, by which she clearly means the entire incident giving rise to the six counts on the indictment. However, while the victim impact statement suggests a prior history of emotional and psychological abuse of the complainant by the respondent, it does not suggest any history of prior physical abuse.

Personal Circumstances of the respondent

The respondent was born on the 29th of July, 1977, is a self-employed accountant, and had never come to the adverse attention of the gardaí prior to this incident.


The respondent submitted on his own behalf that he was a committed and dedicated father and was of good character. He retains the support of his mother and his three sisters. His father passed away from brain cancer about a month prior to his sentencing, and the respondent cares for his elderly mother who has her own medical issues.


The respondent maintains his innocence, and claimed at his trial that the complainant had assaulted him and thereafter self-harmed. This account was, however, rejected by the jury. In that regard, the respondent also has an extant appeal against his conviction, but this review has come on for hearing ahead of the hearing of that appeal in circumstances where, to date, the respondent has not taken the necessary steps to enable it to be listed.

Remarks of the sentencing judge

After dealing with issues relating to the respondents' self-representation, and his unwillingness to accept the...

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