Martin Coyle shook his head and left Letterkenny Circuit Court as John Gibbons – who was facing two Section 3 assault charges – was given a non-custodial sentence.
Mr Coyle, who runs the Village Inn in Kerrykeel, could be seen shaking his head. His wife Laura, who was also attacked was visibly upset.
Details of the shocking incident on October 7, 2010, were relayed to the sentencing hearing today by prosecuting counsel Patricia McLaughlin and the guard who investigated it Garda Ken Dempsey.
John Gibbons and his brother Joe – who wasn’t before the court and is on the run outside the jurisdiction – had been drinking all day following the death of their grandmother.
Around 9pm their mother Frances Gibbons had called the bar to order takeaway food for the wake.
A short time later Mr Coyle was informed that Joe Gibbons wanted to see him outside.
The court heard Joe Gibbons charged at Mr Coyle, shouting ‘Right me and you down to the car park’.
Mr Coyle said he then saw John Gibbons – who had been barred from the premises – joining the attack.
Blows rained down from both men on the defenceless publican who ran back into the bar and into the kitchen area. His wife Laura was also hit.
“I continued to try to protect myself,” said Mr Coyle in his statement.
“I was pushed up against a steel table, I was slightly bent over – I remember taking a blow in the lower back and that must have been when I was stabbed.”
(Mr Coyle didn’t know at the time that he had been stabbed; the wound was found by Gda Dempsey when he arrived at the scene, the court heard).
The attack didn’t stop there however, said Ms McLaughlin.
John Gibbons hit Mr Coyle again, and then attempted to headbutt Laura Coyle.
Gda Dempsey said he later recovered a steak knife which he believed had been used to stab Mr Coyle.
CCTV footage from the premises confirmed the detail of the attack given by numerous witnesses.
The Gibbons had fled the scene. John Gibbons was arrested two days later.
Mr Coyle asked that his victim impact statement was not be read to today’s court. However it emerged he had to stop living at the bar for a time after the incident.
Gda Dempsey detailed John Gibbons’ previous convictions, six in all including one for a previous Section 3 assault.
In mitigation, defence barrister Peter Nolan said John Gibbons, who is now 26, had not come to Garda attention since the attack.
Gibbons then went into the dock and looking towards the Coyles, said: “I am sorry for what happened; it shouldn’t have happened.”
In a lengthy summing up Judge John O’Hagan said he knew Kerrykeel,
“It is a beautiful little village and there are lovely people in it,” he said.
He said Mr Coyle was a law-abiding and hard-working citizen trying his best to make a living in hard times.
“What was done on this particular night was absolutely disgraceful,” said Judge O’Hagan.
He said the Coyles had been actually preparing food for the Gibbons family after a funeral.
“Having injured Mr Coyle they just left him there like a piece of meat. They were full of drink,” said the judge.
“That’s a great example to be giving to your now five year old daughter and your partner who is a hard working woman who is doing her best,” the judge told Gibbons.
“We’ve had no explanation as to why this altercation took place at all.”
Judge O’Hagan said again that 90% of cases he hears are drink-fuelled Section 3 assaults.
He said such behaviour was now taking place at weddings, first communions, confirmation “and now I’m told at wakes and funerals.”
“The fact is that this was an errand of mercy for the funeral and it was turned into this theatre of assault,” said the judge.
He said there were mitigating factors; Gibbons had pleaded guilty saving the expense of a trial and an ordeal of giving evidence for the Coyles.
“I cannot be seen to take revenge, I can punish, but I cannot take revenge,” he said.
“People think that prisons are hotels; they are not. I am advised that I should look at an alternative remedy. The options open to me are Custodial sentence, a Suspended sentence or Community Service.
“Community Service does not avoid the words imprisonment; it is a substitute for imprisonment and it is not to be taken as someone getting off. It is to persuade people not to offend again.”
He said he understood the Coyles may not be happy with the sentence but community service was the appropriate sentence.
“It is on his record for his life,” said the judge
He jailed John Gibbons for 3 years on each count, but substituted 240 hours instead of prison. The sentences were concurrent.
The Coyles were visibly upset as they left the court.
Gibbons went outside, smoked a cigarette and laughed and joked with a friend as he left the court building.