A man hijacked a car outside his local shop in broad daylight and held its driver hostage, threatening to break his jaw if he didn’t drive him to a supermarket to purchase vodka for him.
A jury took just 27 minutes to unanimously find 24-year-old Michael Barrett, from 46 Béal Srutha, Ballybane, guilty of falsely imprisoning the young driver of an Audi A4 and to unlawfully seizing his car, by using the threat of force to take control of the vehicle, outside the Gala shop at 2/3 Beal Srutha on May 3 last year.
Barrett’s defence team claimed during his two-day trial at Galway Circuit Criminal Court last week that he asked the driver outside Gala to take him to Joyce’s in Ballybane, and that the driver had agreed to do so.
Paul Flannery SC, defending, said Barrett denied using the threat of violence to get the driver to take him to Joyce’s and he also denied demanding the driver come into Joyce’s with him to buy him vodka.
CCTV footage downloaded from cameras outside both supermarkets was shown to the jury of eight women and four men.
The footage from Gala showed the victim getting back into his car parked right outside the store after purchasing drinks while on his lunch break.
Barrett was seen approaching the car carrying a paper coffee cup and opening the front passenger’s door. He got in and a minute later the car drove off.
CCTV from Joyce’s picked up the car entering the carpark at speed a few minutes later. The car parked in a space directly across from the front door. The driver got out momentarily. Just as Barrett got out of the car on the passenger’s side, the driver is seen getting back into the car and driving off at speed. Barrett walked across the carpark in the direction of Béal Srutha.
Garda Lena Fregne told the jury she received a report of the alleged hijacking of a black Audi A4 and took photos of items seized inside the car. They included two empty paper coffee cups which were sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory for DNA analysis.
The driver told the jury he knew Barrett to see as he had grown up in the general area himself, but no longer lived there.
He said he asked Barrett to get out of the car as he was anxious to get back to work after his lunch break but Barrett locked the door and told him to drive or he would break his jaw and he would take the car off him anyway.
“He told me to bring him for a spin or he was going to hurt me. I felt extremely shook and threatened and I felt the smart thing to do would be to follow his orders until I got a chance to get away,” witness told the jury.
He said Barrett told him to drive around for a bit and he did what he was told.
As they approached Joyce’s, Barrett told him to pull into the carpark and said he wanted him to buy him vodka in the store.
The witness said he parked as close to the front door as he could as he felt that was his best option to get help because he knew there would be people and also CCTV cameras concentrated in that area.
He told Barrett he had no cash on him, only his cards, but he got out of the car and pretended to go in with him, before getting his chance to jump back in the car and lock the doors when Barrett got out on the passenger’s side.
Mr Flannery put it to him that Joyce’s was just a three to four minute drive from Gala and that he had voluntarily driven his client there.
“What he wanted from you was to get a lift up to Joyce’s so he could get some vodka and you shook hands with him when he got into the car. I suggest he didn’t threaten you,” Mr Flannery put to the witness.
“He threatened to break my jaw and said he didn’t care if I called the Gardai. I went along with things when the threats started.
“I was in such a state of shock, I don’t remember shaking his hand. I told him I was on my lunch break and couldn’t go anywhere,” he said.
Mr Flannery said the man had also refused to take a picture as requested by Barrett on Barrett’s phone and contended that he was not as scared as he was making out to the jury because he had refused to take the photo and had also refused to go into Joyce’s with his client to buy him drink.
“I have no recollection of being asked to take a photo. I was so shook I didn’t know what to do. I was trying to flee the situation but I wasn’t able to,” the man replied.
Garda Sean O’Connor said the driver of a black Audi flagged down his Garda van at Ard Alainn and told him what had just happened.
He and Garda Brendan Dooher searched the area and found Barrett back in Béal Srutha.
Prosecuting barrister, Geri Silke, said Barrett was arrested and questioned about the unlawful seizure or hijacking of the car. He provided a DNA sample which was sent for forensic analysis.
Mr Flannery said it was accepted Barrett’s DNA was found on the coffee cups and said his client would not be giving evidence in the trial.
Following closing submissions from both prosecuting and defence counsel, the jury deliberated for 27 minutes before reaching its unanimous verdict of guilty to both charges.
Barrett was remanded in custody to await sentence on July 22. The court heard he was already in custody awaiting sentence on that date for other matters. His free legal aid certificate was extended to cover the cost of obtaining a psychiatric report on him for that date along with an up-to-date probation report.
Survey to look at parking and transport in Salthill
Residents, businesses and visitors to Salthill have been encouraged to take part in a survey being carried out by the City Council as part of a parking management study.
The study – funded by the National Transport Authority – will explore active travel (walking, cycling) measures along the Prom and will make recommendations on the regulation of parking in the Salthill area.
The Village Salthill group – which represents businesses in that area – have asked everyone to participate in the survey to ensure that the interests of all sectors are considered.
Pete Kelly, spokesperson for Village Salthill, told the Galway City Tribune that they wanted to approach the issue in a reasoned way – starting with participation in the survey.
“We will be engaging with the City Council, and the councillors, in a constructive manner on the whole parking issue but the vital thing for people to do now is to take part in the survey.
“Last year’s summer tourist season was largely rescued by the numbers of family groups who visited the resort and they are people who in the main use their cars to get here.
“We are also looking a population base of around 20,000 people in the Knocknacarra area who would be interested in looking at a better way of life in terms of movement and greater use of public transport,” said Mr Kelly.
Local councillor, Donal Lyons, told the Galway City Tribune that there were many different views to be taken into account as regards parking and traffic management in the Salthill area.
“I am appealing to residents of the Salthill and overall area to respond to this survey and to make their views known. Sometimes, surveys like this, can be dominated by lobby groups. Make sure as locals to have your say,” said Cllr Lyons.
Jimmy Callan, Acting Senior Engineer with the Council said that while the character of Salthill had changed over time, the area still retained its distinctive character and amenity value.
“The purpose of this parking study is to establish a relationship between how people are using Salthill, and where they choose to park.
“Previous public consultation in relation to Covid measures in summer 2020 showed that there is a strong demand to look at how travel and parking is managed in Salthill in the longer term,” said Mr Callan.
Submissions can be made at activetravelgalway.ie and the deadline is Saturday, July 10.
Telecoms company seeks permission to continue work halted by Council
Eir has sought permission to retain a concrete foundation it constructed for a mast at Drom Oir in Knocknacarra – a site where the communications company was forced to abandon works in April after the Council deemed it an unauthorised development.
The telecoms company is also seeking permission for the installation of a mast 12 metres in height, carrying an antenna, as well as ‘ground-based equipment cabinets and all associated site development works for wireless data and broadband services’.
Residents opposed to the structure have citied serious concerns over the potential visual impact of the mast, as well as the impact it may have on the values of their properties.
In the application, it is stated that the structure will be coloured in a galvanised finish, assimilating with ‘the typical sky colour in Ireland and surrounding built form’, but says it will be possible to use a green paint finish which could be requested by way of a conditional grant of planning permission.
“The proposed height, colour and design represent the best compromise between the visual impact of the proposal on the surrounding area and meeting the technical requirements of the site.
“Taking all matters into account, it is considered that this proposal which is to provide new 3G (data) and 4G (high speed data) broadband services, for Eir Mobile and a second operator on a single structure as opposed to having eventually two separate structures in this area, would not be discordant within the local environment.”
The application argues that the proposed development benefits from an existing wall (which partially screens it from the housing estate), a line of vegetation, semi-mature and mature trees along both sides of the Western Distributor Road, which will help to screen the site from this direction.
The structure is described as ‘an attractive pole’ that will blend with the area and give significant benefits by providing the ‘most up-to-date wireless broadband and data services.
Eir notes that it is aware of its requirements in relation to management of electromagnetic field radiation and states it is ‘committed to management of risk to our employees, members of the public and any other groups who may be affected by our networks’.
It states that all their radio base stations are ‘safe by design’ to meet international health and safety standards and best practice.
In a submission to Galway City Council, Leitir Búrca residents Oran Morris and Rebekah D’Arcy have objected to the proposal on grounds including that there are deficiencies in the application; that the mast is in close proximity to residents; and that the development will devalue property.
They contest the assertion that the mast will ‘improve coverage in the surrounding rural area’. “The predicted improvements to coverage do not include a single third class road. This justification is clearly for a rural area and not applicable to Galway City.”
They state that the proposed location of the mast is at the heart of a residential area, within 100 metres of 52 houses, with the closest at 51 Drom Oir which is just 29 metres away.
This, they argue, is in contravention of the City Development Plan, which states “only when a number of other possibilities have been exhausted, masts may be erected within or in the immediate vicinity of residential areas”.
They stress that the structure is unlike any other structure along the Western Distributor Road and will be out of character and visually obtrusive.
“The proposed development would be in direct line of sight from every front-facing window in our property, which is located 52m away . . . this is also true for numerous other properties in Leitir Búrca.
“These factors combined would undoubtedly decrease the value of our property. We retained the services of two separate registered auctioneers to value our property and estimate the devaluation due to the mast. Both reports estimated the devaluation to be between €90,000 and €100,000,” they state.
‘Excessive’ Galway Docks hotel rejected by planners
Galway City Council has turned down scaled-back plans for a 10-storey hotel at Galway Docks, branding it “excessive”.
Last September, Summix BNM Developments lodged a planning application with the Council for a three-storey to eleven-storey hotel (with a rooftop bar and function area) on site of the former Bord na Mona coal yard at the Docks.
The plans also included a restaurant, coffee bar and terraces.
However, the Council sent the company back to the drawing board and told it to revisit the overall scale, height, massing and intensity of the development, but said that the architectural quality of the proposed building is of a good standard.
Planners said there would be a “resultant overbearing expression” onto the Forthill Cemetery and the Long Walk ACA (Architectural Conservation Area). They sought a detailed assessment of the visual impacts on the graveyard.
The Council said that with a height of 38m and length of 70m-90m facing Bóthar na Long and Forthill Cemetery, the building “is not considered to assimilate well; lacks integration with the existing urban form; fails to achieve the visions and aspirations of the Galway City Development Plan . . . detracting from the character and setting of the area”.
The developers came back with scaled-back plans – they reduced the scheme to a maximum of 10 storeys (a height reduction of three metres) and the number of bedrooms reduced from 186 to 174 on the 0.55-acre site.
In its decision to refuse planning permission, the Council said the excessive density, scale and height on a very constrained site would represent overdevelopment of the site and would have a detrimental impact on the character and setting of Forthill Cemetery.
“The development does not adhere to the principles of good urban design set out in the Galway City Development Plan and in this regard, it is considered to lack the capacity for integration with the existing urban form, contribute positively to street enclosure and fails to sympathetically assimilate with Galway’s townscape,” the decision reads.
A submission from the Harbour Hotel – located opposite the site – welcomed the redevelopment of the vacant site but said the build and massing of the building would create “a visually dominant feature on this prominent corner location which will have an overbearing impact on the street scene and Forthill Cemetery”.
It added that the height would have a detrimental impact on the existing built and natural heritage of the area.
The submission also noted there were no carparking spaces provided in the plans, and there is a shortage of spaces in the city centre.
The Harbour Hotel submission claimed that the additional bedrooms would result in an overconcentration of tourism accommodation and an “excessively transient” population in the vicinity of the site.
City Council Heritage Officer, Dr Jim Higgins, said in his view the site should not be developed as the possibility of fort-related archaeology being present there is high.
He said that in the 1960s, a well was found on the CIE side of the site, close to the boundary wall.
According to the planning application, demand for hotel rooms in Galway will exceed “pre-Covid” levels by 2023.
“Provision of hotel accommodation at this location will enhance overall visitor experience on offer in the city, with convenient access to a broad range of attractions, as well as present a major new opportunity to capture a proportion of the spend generated by visitors to the area in a part of Galway City that has been in decline for many years,” the application reads.
Summix – which is headed by British technology entrepreneurs Shukri Shammas and Tareq Naqib – has already partnered with Galway developer Gerry Barrett on the approved plans for 360 student bed spaces on a site at Queen Street, behind Bonham Quay.
They have also partnered on the recently-approved €320m regeneration proposal at Ceannt Station called ‘Augustine Hill’, which includes homes, a new shopping precinct with four public squares, a multiplex cinema and eleven streets linking the city centre with the Docks and Lough Atalia.
Image: An architect’s impression of the hotel (with red facade) alongside the Bonham Quay development