A WOMAN who attacked a charity worker while on temporary release from prison was just a week into a sentence – and had the rest of that sentence written off by the prison service despite not returning to jail.
Harriett Higgins, 21, pictured right, of Orchard Drive in Donegal Town pleaded guilty to throwing a glass at Martina O’Donnell at a charity event at Dom’s Bar in the town on May 30, 2010.
Higgins was jailed for two years – the last 12 months suspended – when she appeared at Donegal Town Circuit Court and apologised to Ms O’Donnell.
Martina, 34, suffered permanent scarring on her face as a result of the attack. She had organised the event to raise money for victims of the Haiti earthquake.
Higgins read an apology to her victim in court and had told Gardai when she was arrested: “I didn’t mean to. I feel really bad about it. I can’t go to jail for this. I had drink taken.”
However donegaldaily.com can reveal that Ms O’Donnell would never have been hurt had Higgins been kept in prison.
Instead Higgins was given temporary release just days into a three month prison sentence for public order offences.
And when she was arrested for the attack on Ms O’Donnell, gardai were told NOT to return her to prison – because the prison service said her three month sentence was ‘spent.’
When she was interviewed by Gardai Higgins had admitted “throwing a glass at a group of girls as she thought they were laughing at her. She claimed that she became paranoid and it wasn’t a personal attack.”
Ms O’Donnell said surgeons have told her she will have a 4cm scar on her face for life.
“I dislike being in big crowds now; I’m nervous – it affects my confidence and it leaves me embarrassed. My mother worries about me a lot,” she said.
“I now wear my hair down to try to cover my scar. It just leaves me very paranoid and nervous all the time.”
Judge O’Hagan said Higgins had “an appalling life brought up in the most awful of circumstances.”
But he said Higgins had previous convictions in Co Mayo for public order offences and was on temporary release from prison when she threw the glass at Ms O’Donnell.
Judge O’Hagan said: “I believe that a custodial sentence is absolutely necessary in this case. I have to send out a message to young people that you can’t behave like this and get away with it.”
Speaking after the case Ms O’Donnell, who is a member of the Donegal Town Community Band, said: “The fact is that if she (Higgins) had not been released so soon into her previous sentence, I would not be scarred for life today.
“There were also the two years from when I was attacked until this week in court when she (Higgins) was prancing about Donegal town and left me living in fear.”
“The system isn’t right though,” she said, “but unfortunately there is nothing I can do about that.
“I just want to get on with my life now and try to put this all behind me.”