27 Sept 2022

Breaking: Man jailed for cocaine-fuelled Glenties shooting spree

Carlow man Stephen Dowling caused a night of terror, leaving Gardaí in fear of their lives

Stephen Dowling.

Stephen Dowling is brought to court by Detective Garda Enda Jennings and Detective Garda Darren Carter. (North West Newspix)

A Carlow man who went on a drink and cocaine-fuelled shooting spree in Glenties has been jailed for eight years.

Stephen Dowling, now 25 years of age, was ‘completely out of control of himself and of his mind’ when he caused a night of terror on February 22, 2020.

Dowling, of Cois Abhainn, Burren Road, Carlow was armed with a with a high-powered .256 remington calibre t3x bolt-action rifle when he fired a series of shots at Gardaí, a passing car and at three houses.

Dowling pleaded guilty to eleven charges: Five of possession of a rifle with intent to endanger life; one count of possessing an offensive weapon, a hunting knife; and five counts of criminal damage.

Judge John Aylmer said the case merited a headline sentence of 14 years imprisonment.

Taking mitigating circumstances into account, Judge Aylmer jailed Dowling for eight years.

“One of the most aggravating features is that he brought cocaine with him while being in control and a licensee of a very high powered hunting rifle,” Judge Aylmer said.

Stephen Dowling. (North West Newspix)

“People who are licensed by the State to carry such weapons undertake a very high burden of responsibility. The vast majority are careful and responsible and incidents such as this are extremely rare.

“The accused demonstrated gross irresponsibility in allowing himself to become so intoxicated. He was completely out of control of himself and of his mind.

“It is extremely fortuitous that no-one was shot dead or injured, notwithstanding that the accused purposely took aim and fired.”

Judge Aylmer said that the ‘extreme risk of life and limb’ was a highly-aggravating feature.”

Dowling fired two shots at Gardaí, leaving officers in fear of their lives. The incident was likened to a Wild West scene. 

Detective Garda Jennings, who rushed to the scene with Detective Garda Darren Carter, said he could ‘see madness in his eyes’.

“I knew that I was up against a man with a superior firearm; I was outgunned and the odds were stacked against me,” Detective Garda Jennings recalled.

“I had to do my duty to protect the public and my unarmed colleagues.  I was sure that I would never see my family again and thought of the suffering and hardship they would have.”

Judge John Aylmer

Gardaí in a marked patrol car got out as they were in fear of being shot.

Dowling fired a shot towards the patrol car. A fragment lodged in the bumper, a couple of feet from where officers were standing. Soon after, Dowling took aim across a pillar and fired another shot.

Earlier in the night, Dowling fired a shot through the back window of a passing car. Bullet fragments passed through the passenger seat and headrest before exiting the front window.

Dowling, who was in the area with family members on a deer-hunting trip, caused damage to three houses on Church Road when he discharged further shots.

Dowling, who held a firearms licence since he was aged 17. recalled discharging his firearm, but had no idea why, he told Gardaí in interviews. He did not recall firing the shots at the car or the various properties.  He admitted to taking alcohol and taking half-a-gramme of cocaine.

Dowling arrived in Glenties in the company of an uncle and a cousin having answered an advertisement from a local farmer who was having trouble with deer.

Following their hunting expedition, the men visited a number of premises in Glenties and a large quantity of alcohol was consumed.

Later that night, Dowling was seen on CCTV leaving a B&B having changed into hunting clothes.

Witnesses described Dowling as resembling a ’soldier marching up the street’.

Employees at some premises from which Dowling had been ejected were fearful that he was returning to exact some form of revenge.

Counsel for Dowling, Mr Colm Smith SC, said the actions were ‘clearly outrageous’.

“It was reckless and an act of tyranny against the community and the Gardaí, who are there to protect the community. He will forever live with his actions, which were out of lunacy and intoxication.”

Judge Aylmer praised the ‘very brave and courageous’ members of the Gardaí who responded to the incident. He said there had to be a ‘clear and significant’ deterrent when imposing sentence and said the five counts of possessing of a firearm with intent to endanger life merited a headline sentence of 14 years imprisonment. The other charges each merited sentences of four years imprisonment, he said.

There were ‘many’ mitigating factors, Judge Aylmer said.

Dowling has no previous convictions and was a ‘hard-working young man who had never come to adverse attention before or since’, Judge Aylmer said.

“His offending on the night was out of character,” Judge Aylmer said.

“He was fully and completely cooperative with the investigation once he sobered up. He seems genuinely remorseful.”

Dowling, a qualified welder, is a father-of-one and he and his partner are expecting their second child, the court heard. Since the incident in Glenties, the accused had rescued a young boy from what was described as a ‘savage dog attack’.

A number of references, including from his employer and sports clubs, were handed into the court.  The Probation Services said Dowling was at a low risk of reoffending.

Dowling was jailed for eight years on each of the five counts of possession of a rifle with intent to endanger life. Judge Ayler sentenced Dowling to two-and-a-half years imprisonment on each of the other six charges with all sentences to run concurrently.

Judge Aylmer ordered the forfeiture of the firearm and the ammunition.

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