21 Jan 2022

Louth criminal with 40 previous convictions appeals the severity of his sentence for burning out a stolen car

Louth criminal with 40 previous convictions appeals the severity of his sentence for burning out a stolen car

A Louth criminal with 40 previous convictions has appealed the severity of his sentence for burning out a stolen car, in what a judge has described as "mysterious" circumstances.

Paul Crosby (25) of Rathmullen Park, Drogheda, Co Louth was under surveillance by the Emergency Response Unit who watched as he and two others jump-started the stolen Volkswagen Polo, drove it to a field and set it on fire.

He pleaded guilty to arson and a judge at Dundalk Circuit Criminal Court sentenced him to five years imprisonment with the final six months suspended. 

At a sentence hearing in April 2020 Detective Garda Seamus Nolan told Dundalk Circuit Criminal Court that Crosby was being watched by the Emergency Response Unit when, on May 10, 2019, he was seen with two other men trying to jump-start the stolen car at an industrial estate in Drogheda.

The car had been reported stolen from Dublin and had been fitted with stolen plates and tax and insurance discs.

When the three men got the car started they drove to a field in the Yellowbatter area of the town.

The two other men, driving a BMW, left and returned with a can of petrol.

One of them, not Crosby, doused the car and set it on fire.

The Volkswagen, which was said to have been worth e10,000, was a write-off.

The judge set a headline sentence of seven years in prison but reduced that due to Crosby's early guilty plea.

The court also heard that Crosby had 40 previous convictions: 31 for road traffic offences, four for theft, three for drug-related offences and two for criminal damage.

He was also acquitted of attempted murder following a trial in February 2019.

He had been accused of the attempted murder of Gerard Boyle at Knockcommon, Beauparc, Slane, on November 10, 2016.

Mr Boyle was stabbed 28 times and forced into the boot of a car that was then pushed into a canal.

He escaped from the car and swam to the canal bank where a passing taxi driver called the emergency services.

Crosby denied any involvement and a Central Criminal Court jury took just 43 minutes to find him not (NOT) guilty of attempted murder.

At the Court of Appeal today, Thursday March 4th Lily Buckley BL for Crosby said the headline sentence of seven years for arson was too severe.

She said the main concern in arson cases is the danger posed to others when fires get out of control.

That did not feature in this case, she said, as the car was set on fire in a field away from houses and people.

She also argued that her client's guilty plea was particularly helpful given that his trial would have been delayed indefinitely as the courts are not holding jury trials during lockdown.

She said the sentencing judge put too much emphasis on the idea that it was a planned operation.

Ms Buckley pointed out that Crosby and his alleged accomplices didn't even have petrol to light the fire when they first brought the car to the field, suggesting it wasn't particularly well-planned. 

President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham said people who burn out cars usually do so to destroy forensic evidence relating to a robbery or shooting, or out of hostility towards the car owner, or as an act of mindless vandalism.

"It's hard to see where this one fits into the picture," he said, adding: "It is slightly mysterious, a car stolen in Dublin, turning up in Drogheda, parked in a car park until the battery went flat, jump started and then brought to a field to be burned out. What is it all about?"

Ms Buckley pointed out that the sentencing judge had described the fire as "sinister" but didn't speculate beyond that.

Kevin Segrave SC for the Director of Public Prosecutions said the involvement of the emergency response unit meant the judge was "entitled to infer something sinister."

He added, however, that there is no more evidence and therefore he would "leave it at that". 

Mr Justice Birmingham, sitting with Mr Justice Seamus Woulfe and Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy, reserved judgement.

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