STOLEN CARAVAN WAS FOLLOWED OVER BORDER
A man who happened to see his caravan, stolen from outside his house, being hauled past him on the road followed the culprits across the border before they were finally caught by Gardai in Dundalk, the district court heard last week.
Details of the incident, which happened on January 25 last year, were revealed after three Dublin men pleaded not guilty to handling stolen property.
Thomas Berry (22), 5 Labre Park, Kylemore Road, Edward Wall, (25), Newtown Park, Tallaght and Martin Wall (37), Fortunestown Lane, Tallaght, were before the court.
The victim, David Griffin from Camlough, told Judge Flann Brennan how he was driving close to St Paul’s High School in Bessbrook at around 2.30pm when he saw an Isuzu 4x4 going in the opposite direction towing what he thought was his Hobby Excelsior caravan. It was just three miles from his house.
The caravan was distinctive because one of the windows was broken and Mr Griffin contacted his wife to ask her if she had lent the trailer to anyone. When she said she hadn’t, and that she had last seen the caravan parked outside the couple’s home around 45 minutes earlier, he made a decision to follow it.
Mr Griffin contacted the PSNI while he was driving and told them where he was and what he was doing. The Isuzu continued onto the motorway heading South and the PSNI were able to patch Mr Griffin through to Gardai who took over the chase.
Close to junction 18, a number of Garda vehicles appeared, including armed members of the Regional Response Unit and the Isuzu pulled over, with Mr Griffin a short distance behind. Gardai Finbarr Gurhy and Patricia Sloyan arrested three men in the jeep.
The key of the caravan was found in the jeep.
Information provided to the investigation by Mr Griffin showed the caravan, which he bought for £25,000, belonged to him and he estimated that it would have been worth around €6,000 to €8,000 when it was taken.
In interviews with Gardai, the de- fendants denied knowing the caravan had been stolen. All three said they met with a member of another Traveller man around Newry where, they claimed, Edward Wall bought the caravan with €3,000 in cash.
Martin Wall, who was driving the Isuzu, said he ‘ hadn’t a clue who owned the jeep’ and he had been taking his nephew Edward to buy a caravan in the North.
Edward Wall said he met a man from a Traveller family who lives ‘on the halting site in Newry’ and, having met him close to the site, agreed to buy the caravan for cash. He said he didn’t know what the seller was wearing and didn’t know the registration of the vehicle he was driving.
Berry told Gardai the Walls had asked him to ‘ go for a spin’. He said: ‘ We met a lad, and paid €3,000. Then we got stopped by Gardai’.
The men added they didn’t think there was anything suspicious about the alleged transaction.
Garda Gurhy said he passed on the names of the arrested men to the PSNI.
The defendants’ barrister, Brian Storan, said an investigation into the theft of the caravan had been carried out by the PSNI and a file on the matter was sent to the PPS in the North, who directed no prosecution against the Walls and Berry.
Mr Storan applied to Judge Brennan for the case to be struck out on the grounds that because the PSNI had not prosecuted anyone for the caravan theft, there was a doubt about whether the defendants had stolen it.
The men were prosecuted for handling stolen property which states: ‘A person is guilty of handling stolen property if (otherwise than in the course of the stealing) he or she, knowing that the property was stolen or being reckless as to whether it was stolen’.
He said ‘all the evidence points to them as the ones who actually stole the caravan’ and if this was the case, they couldn’t be prosecuted for handling.
Mr Storan added that the theft had not been committed in the State.
But Judge Brennan said the three defendants had given statements to Gardai saying they didn’t steal the caravan and he was ‘entitled to have regard’ to that. He said the men were charged with handling in the State and that case had been established by Gardai.
He refused to strike out the charges and, after hearing the defendants would not be giving evidence, he convicted all three of the charges.
Martin Wall, a father of six, has a number of previous convictions, including for robbery for which he was given a five year suspended sentence in 2002 and for handling stolen property. He also has convictions for burglary and assault.
Berry was given a 12 month sentence, suspended for 18 months in November last year for handling stolen property. And Edward Wall, the court heard, has a number of dangerous driving and traffic convictions.
Mr Storan said the men were willing to do community service instead of a prison sentence.
Judge Brennan said Berry and Edward Wall could do 120 hours instead of six months in prison, while Martin Wall ‘ who has a far worse record’ was given 200 hours instead of nine months.
The cases were adjourned to May 3 for community service suitability reports to be prepared.