A barber who was driving a car with 152kg of explosives in the boot when he was stopped by gardai, has lost an appeal against the severity of his seven-year sentence.
Lawyers for John Roche had argued that the sentencing judge didn't take into account their client's lack of previous convictions, high standing in his community and history of doing charitable works.
Hugh Hartnett SC for the 57-year-old said Roche was effectively given the same sentence as his co-accused, John Brock, even though Brock had a previous conviction at the Special Criminal Court. Brock was sentenced to eight years and six months with the final 18 months suspended while Roche was jailed for seven years.
Mr Hartnett said: "He is a man in his mid-50s who has done serious works of charity and is well known in the community." Mr Hartnett said the case was exceptional in that a garda had said that Roche had not come to their attention before and that he did not expect him to come to garda attention again. It was, Mr Hartnett said, an "isolated incident".
In written submissions to the court Roche's lawyers described how he had run a barber shop and regularly volunteered at St James' Hospital in Dublin to cut the hair of the elderly and sick.
Roche, of Bridgefoot Street, Dublin, and Brock (48), with an address at Cushlawn Park, Tallaght, had both pleaded not guilty to possession of 57kg of homemade explosives, consisting of ammonium nitrate fuel mix, and 38 2.5kg rolls of Kemegel industrial explosives at Naas Road, Dublin 12. They were convicted by three judges of the non-jury Special Criminal Court.
Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy today delivered judgement on behalf of the Court of Appeal, saying the approach taken to sentencing by the Special Criminal Court was correct. He said the court had set a headline sentence of ten years and had rightly reduced it to seven after considering mitigating factors, including Roche's good record, charitable works and standing in his community.
He said the court suspended part of Brock's sentence on the condition that he cut his ties to the IRA and therefore the suspended part was a "real sentence". There would not have been any rational basis for suspending any part of Roche's sentence, Justice McCarthy said, because he is not considered likely to reoffend.
Following their trials in 2019 Mr Justice Tony Hunt told Brock that “the time has now come for him to cut this out” and that he could avail of an 18-month sentence reduction if he undertook to dissociate from dissidents.
Mr Justice Hunt said that the explosives weighed between 23 and 24 stone and “the potential for death, injury and damage” to be caused by them was “very great indeed”.
Armed gardaí found four bags of explosives in the boot of a black Skoda Fabia car and 18 expended detonators under the front passenger seat when they stopped the vehicle on the Naas Road on April 13th, 2016. The National Surveillance Unit had been watching the car, which was driven by Roche with Brock in the passenger seat.
Sentencing the two, Mr Justice Hunt said both had possessed the explosives for the purposes of an unlawful organisation and this was an aggravating factor in the case. However, the judge said the court could not be satisfied that the men’s involvement with the explosives extended beyond their transportation.
Having regard to the gravity of the offence, the judge said it was at the mid-level of the top range and the maximum sentence was 14 years.
Regarding Roche, Mr Justice Hunt said the two mitigating factors were that he had not contested the prosecution evidence during the trial and he was a man in his mid-50s with health difficulties. The court also took into account that he has no previous convictions. Furthermore, the fact gardaí accepted that Roche was not on “garda radar” either before or after this event was important.
Referring to Brock, Mr Justice Hunt said he did not have an “unblemished record” like his co-accused. Brock was convicted for possessing firearms and ammunition in the Special Criminal Court in 2008 and was sentenced to six years in prison. The judge said Brock had approached the trial in the same manner as Roche and was therefore entitled to mitigation.
Following this, the court said there was an element of “recidivism” in Brock’s case and the court would need some bond or undertaking from him to dissociate with members of dissident organisations if he wanted a further reduction of 18 months off his sentence.
Mr Justice Hunt told Brock’s barrister that his client could have time to consider this but said that this was his second conviction for this offence and “it was time to stop”.