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CITY TRIBUNE

Former student jailed for five years for stalking young woman

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Stalker Igor Lewandowski

A 21-year-old former NUIG student, whom a judge described as “a dangerous young man who continues to pose a risk of serious harm to the public”, has been sentenced to seven years in prison with the final two years suspended for stalking a fellow student and attacking her friend with a hammer.

The conduct of Igor Lewandowski (21), from Monasterevin, Co. Kildare, was also described as ‘sinister’ by the probation service and his expressions of remorse ‘shallow’ by mental health experts.

Lewandowski was a second-year electronic engineering student at NUIG when he became obsessed with 20-year-old Eve McDowell, and began stalking and harassing her incessantly over a 17-day period in May of last year.

He drastically changed his appearance – by shaving off his hair, eyebrows and beard – when her friends pointed out to him during one stalking episode that he was easily recognisable.

He was arrested shortly after breaking into her apartment and assaulting her flatmate with a hammer very early on the morning of May 27 last and remained in custody since.

Lewandowski pleaded guilty last November before Galway Circuit Criminal Court to harassing Ms McDowell at her student accommodation at Dun na Coiribe, Headford Road, and also at various other locations around the city on dates between May 10 and May 27, 2019.

He also pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated burglary by breaking into her apartment at Dun na Coiribe on May 27 last year, while having a claw hammer with him which he used to assault her flatmate Alison Buicke, causing her harm.

The accused, who moved from Poland to Monasterevin with his family ten years ago, was refused bail on six occasions since his incarceration last year.

His sentence hearing took place last week at Galway Circuit Criminal Court.

The initial hearing last November heard evidence from Det Bernard McLoughlin that the accused met Ms McDowell in a group setting through mutual friends. He began to follow her to and from NUIG to where she lived between May 10 and 27 last year.

He followed her to her place of part-time work in a clothing shop in the city centre at weekends and evenings and even stalked her when she met friends for lunch or went out at night.

Ms McDowell and her friends did not take his stalking behaviour seriously at first but she became alarmed and immediately contacted Gardaí when Lewandowski rang her doorbell early one morning and she could see as he pressed his face to the glass that he had shaved off his hair, eyebrows and beard.

Gardaí cautioned him to stay away from her but a few days later he returned to her flat at 6.30am, climbed onto her balcony using a scaffolding pole from a nearby building site and entered the apartment through an open door.

He was carrying a claw hammer and used it to attack her flatmate, Alison Buicke, as she slept on a couch in the sitting room, hitting her on the head and arms. She fended off the blows with her duvet and raised the alarm.

Lewandowski fled, jumping from the balcony onto a shrubbery below.

Gardai later found a sharp knife, an empty Viagra packet and a scaffolding pole at that location. Forensic examination failed to link him to the items and he denied all knowledge of them.

Lewandowski sprained his ankle in the jump and was found crawling along a busy road half a kilometre away by Gardaí a short time later.

He was arrested and only admitted both offences during a third interview.

Det McLoughlin said there had been clear premeditation as Lewandowski admitted he didn’t brought his mobile phone with him that morning because he knew Gardaí would be able to trace his movements if he had done so.

He claimed he was going to use the hammer to break the side window and gain entry through the front door to the apartment.He showed no remorse at the time.

Lewandowski admitted that while stalking Ms McDowell he had calculated the best vantage points in the student accommodation complex where she lived, from where he could simultaneously check her movements along either of two paths leading to and from her apartment.  The hidden vantage point also afforded him a clear view through her bedroom window and the front door leading to her apartment block.

He claimed he had lent her €200 two months beforehand and that was why he had followed her for over two weeks and had gone to her apartment to get the money back.  He subsequently changed his story, telling Gardaí he had gone to the apartment to speak to her about his conduct.

In her victim impact statement read to the court last November, Ms McDowell said she feared for her life if Lewandowski was released from custody.

She said the court process had been very long but she encouraged others who may be victims of stalking to come forward and make a complaint to Gardai.

She expressed relief that the process had come to an end and that her stalker had been sent to prison.

Ms Buicke was diagnosed with PTSD following the attack and continues to be treated for her symptoms, the court heard.

Two psychosocial reports and a probation report handed into court at the time, concurred the accused had displayed no empathy for either of his victims and he posed a risk of using similar violence in the future.

Passing sentence last week, Judge Rory McCabe said the probation service had described Lewandowski’s conduct as ‘sinister’, and that it had crossed “a number of moral and social boundaries”.

“They note clear indicators of a continued risk of serious harm to the public,” he said.

The judge noted Lewandowski was not suffering from any serious mental disorder, having been assessed by two psychologists and a forensic psychiatrist.

They had concurred the accused displayed a lack of genuine empathy for his victims and that his expression of remorse was shallow and self-serving as he was anxious about the sentence he would receive.

Judge McCabe said the evidence showed Lewandowski posed a risk of recidivism which meant a significant custodial sentence was unavoidable.

There was no evidence, he said, that the defendant had “any wish to engage in rehabilitation or accept the help that he obviously needs if he is not to pose an ongoing risk to the public.

“His conduct and attitude has shown him to be a dangerous young man,” Judge McCabe said.

The judge observed there was no way of knowing if the aggravated burglary was due to the Gardaí warning given a few days beforehand.

The judge said he was sorry for the accused, who, at a young age faced a significant custodial sentence, but he said he was far more sorry for the two young girls “whose lives, hopes and dreams were turned upside down” by Lewandowski’s conduct.

“I contrast his reported insouciance and lack of empathy with the total upheaval of their lives, their education and career paths,” he said.

The judge said Lewandowski’s true intent in breaking into the apartment armed with a weapon, remains unknown.

“But there are strands of evidence that suggest an intention to do more than talk or seek repayment of a fictitious loan.

“There is also evidence, perhaps tenuous, that his preparations included possessing a sharp knife, an empty Viagra packet and a form of scaffolding, all found at or near the locus.  He denies ownership of any of these and there is no forensic evidence linking these to the defendant, other than their location.

“Had such evidence been forthcoming, the gravity of these offences would be elevated to a much higher level,” the judge observed.

He sentenced Lewandowski to three and a half years for harassing Ms McDowell and imposed a concurrent seven-year sentence for the aggravated burglary.

“In recognition of the public interest, rehabilitation and as an incentive and an active deterrent, I will suspend the final two years of the seven-year sentence for five years, with 12-month post release supervision,” Judge McCabe said.

Lewandowski, he added, was entitled to credit for time served and should be afforded medical treatment and counselling while in prison if he wished to avail of it.

The accused was bound to keep the peace for five years on his release as part of the suspended sentence.

He remained expressionless during the lengthy hearing and did not react when sentence was passed.

CITY TRIBUNE

Housing charity evicts family after ‘number of incidents’

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A family was evicted from the Westside Family Hub in Galway due to a number of incidents in recent weeks.

Peter McVerry Trust, which runs the temporary social housing facility on behalf of Galway City Council, confirmed it found alternative accommodation for the parent and children.

In a statement to the Galway City Tribune, a spokesperson for the housing charity said: “Peter McVerry Trust can confirm that despite intensive and extensive engagement it was reluctantly forced to end the placement of a household at Westside Family Hub recently due to health, safety and child safeguarding risks. We did provide alternative accommodation and continue to offer alternative temporary accommodation to the family that was removed.”

The hub has supported dozens of families since it opened in May 2020. It was due to be a temporary accommodation for families before they move-on to more permanent homes but residents have ended up staying far longer due to the housing shortage.

A spokesperson added: “Our focus at Westside Family Hub is on providing a safe, supportive environment for the families on site who need of emergency homeless accommodation. While the aim is to progress families into long term housing as quickly as possible, the current housing crisis and the limited availability of suitable and affordable housing has made progressions extremely challenging.

“To this end we have established an internal working group of senior staff to look at ways in which to significantly increase housing delivery in Galway City so as to accelerate move-ons for families from the service in partnership with Galway City Council.”

File photo: the Westside hub

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CITY TRIBUNE

Concern over urban sprawl as ‘new town’ in Galway turned down

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From the Galway City Tribune – Plans to develop a ‘new town’ at a 19-acre site off the Tuam Road have been torpedoed by An Bord Pleanála.

The planning authority has overturned a previous grant of permission by Galway City Council for the proposal which included 248 apartments, office blocks, a supermarket and a 222-bed hotel.

In its refusal, the Board stated that the development, which was to be located at the City North Business Park, would materially contravene the Council’s own zoning in the City Development Plan – representing ‘urban sprawl’ instead of compact growth in the city centre and established suburbs.

An Bord Pleanála said the location of the development outside the city centre, as well as both the established and outer suburbs, would result in “dependency on unsustainable commuter-driven trip generation by private car” and therefore was “contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area”.

Strategic Land Investments Ltd was granted planning permission for the mixed-use development on lands adjacent to the An Post Distribution Centre in August 2021.

The local authority gave the go-ahead for the eight residential blocks, ranging in height from two to eight storeys; the nine-storey hotel; and four office blocks with 30 conditions attached.

However, an appeal was lodged by Pat O’Neill on the grounds of issues with the zoning; the location of the site outside the city centre; the site’s absence from the city’s Housing Strategy; a shortage of car parking spaces as only half of the 1,674 required were provided for; and the environmental impact of the development.

In his appeal to the Board, Mr O’Neill stated that Galway was a county with one of the highest vacancy rates in the country for commercial floor space “at 16.6% compared to the national average of 13.6%”.

Those behind the project had made much of the site’s proximity to Boston Scientific and the Ardaun lands for which the Council has prepared a Local Area Plan.

However, the Board’s Senior Planning Inspector, Jane Dennehy, in her assessment of the appeal said this proximity “would not alone justify positive consideration” of the plans.

Ms Dennehy said in her report that the development would increase car trips as public transport options at the site are limited, “and are likely to remain limited”.

“It is questionable as to whether the proposed development is consistent with and would not hinder the implementation of the adopted national, regional and local strategic policy,” states Ms Dennehy’s report.

Recommending that permission be refused, Ms Dennehy stated that the proposed development would contravene these strategies and “would lead to diversion of residential and commercial development from areas within the city and suburbs”.

The Board accepted Ms Dennehy’s recommendation and refused permission for the development.

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune, September 23. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Asylum seekers pitch business ideas to Galway’s food and music experts

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From the Galway City Tribune – Two projects from asylum-seekers living in city Direct Provision centres will be pitched to a national competition to fund social enterprises.

Áras na nGael on Dominick Street was a hive of activity on Wednesday as the migrants honed their presentations in front of a panel of local mentors before facing the judges for the ‘Champion Changemakers’ competition.

Michelin-star chef JP McMahon, Galway Arts Festival co-founder and Saw Doctors manager Ollie Jennings and manager of the Town Hall Theatre Fergal McGrath were among the mentors who showed up to share their expertise as part of a Dragons’ Den for community groups.

Up for grabs is €10,000 bursary of supports to set up selected projects, which are deemed to positively impact the lives of people in local communities. The Champion Changemakers is free to enter and run under the auspices of the Community Enterprise Association Ireland, the country’s leading network of enterprise hubs, co-working locations and flexible working spaces that is funded by Enterprise Ireland.

The first project from United Women Galway is for a proposal to set up a culture café offering multi-ethnic food.

Food is a particularly hot topic for people living in Direct Provision, explains Flutura Rrebani.

“We know Irish food is nice. Unfortunately, people in Direct Provision are never offered very good quality food.”

While asylum-seekers have been allowed to cook in the last two years, some children who have spent years in the centres had never tasted food from their homelands.

“We want to offer a bit of their own food. It’s important to keep their culture alive and there is no culture without food,” insists the mother from Albania.

She was one of a number of women in Direct Provision who set up United Women Galway two years ago to alleviate boredom during the pandemic. They are made up of ten nationalities.

“Everyone was affected by Covid but mostly Direct Provision people because we had no jobs, no cars, the shops were closed and our children were small. What can we do as a group – we discovered we can cook.”

The group began to cook together for different events, such as Africa Day, Melting Pot Club and the Westside Festival. But now they hope to get funding for a city café where they can sell their wares and create a space for people to meet over food.

“We want a place to cook traditional food from our homes and give an opportunity for migrants to cook their food for their own community. The emphasis would be on integration, eating and preserving our culture.”

For the mentor session, the women cooked a variety of food from Nigeria, Zimbabwe and the Lebanon such as spicy fried chicken and beef with peanut butter.

The second project is from a group of African musicians who set up the Galway African Diaspora. They want funding to set up a company with access to a venue and equipment that can be used to stage ethnic concerts and community events. The company will mentor African artists and produce musical projects.

Wally Nkikita is a member of the band Elikiya that played at the Galway Arts Festival in 2019 as support for Grammy-award winning Tinariwen, a blues band founded in refugee camps in Libya. They’ve also been on the bill of the Electric Picnic Festival.

“We’ve found it difficult to get community spaces to play our gigs and hold our events. We want spaces to be involved in the arts. We’ve been organising Afro music nights once a month and have been organising Africa Day here. We’d like to use music as a tool for social integration.”

After finalising presentations with the help of their mentors, they will present their projects at the West of Ireland finals, when ideas will be selected under three different headings –  Environment and Climate Action, Economic Inequality, Human Wellbeing.

Ideas will be shortlisted to participate in a national PitchFest in October at Innovate Communities Social Innovation Hub in Dublin

(Photo: At the music mentoring session were, from left; Arts Festival co-founder, Ollie Jennings, Mairead Duffy, Lorg Media; Jonathan Healy, Wally Nkikita; Brandon Duke and Stevo Lende).

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune, September 23. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

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