Letterkenny Courthouse

Career criminal who threatened to kill family during home invasion is jailed

July 17, 2020

A career criminal who threatened to kill a family during a house invasion has been jailed for six years.

Stephen Darby claimed to be a member of the notorious Westies crime-gang when he broke into the house in Stranorlar, just days before last Christmas.

The 46-year-old told the terrified family he would get the gang to riddle their home with bullets and then petrol-bomb them.

He was accompanied by another man and they went upstairs to the couple’s bedroom and terrorised them.

At one stage Darby, who has over 100 previous convictions, picked up two small children under his arms and continued to make threats.

He told the couple that he was a member of the Clondalkin gang and that he would also have them shot in the back of the knees if they didn’t do what he said.

The male victim began to scuffle with Darby and the accused tripped and fell down the stairs and was knocked unconscious during the invasion on December 19th last.

Gardai arrived at the house and he was taken to Letterkenny Garda station before being taken to Letterkenny University Hospital.

The other man with Darby, who claimed he had relatives in the house at Ardmiran Park, was also arrested.

Darby, who is originally from Dublin but who has been living in Donegal on and off, appeared before Letterkenny Circuit Court charged where he pleaded guilty to burglary.

Barrister for Darby, Mr Peter Nolan, said his client had downed a bottle of whiskey and merely thought the other man was calling to the house to change his clothing.

However, when he arrived, the other man kicked the door in and began to shout at the terrified couple and their family.

Mr Nolan claimed his client was trying to calm matters down when he was pushed down the stairs and had little recollection of the events.

However, a victim impact statement from the terrified couple, who asked not to be identified, revealed their fear.

The woman said “It has changed my entire outlook on life, the way someone can make you feel so scared for your life and your loved ones. I was petrified.

“How an uninvited stranger with a knock on your door can come in and put myself and my family through this terrifying ordeal.

“The most hurtful part was when he reached for my boys. If the Gardai had been any later I dread to think what would have happened.

“I was always a very strong person but now I suffer from anxiety and pains in my chest. It just broke me.”

Barrister Nolan put his client in the witness box and Darby, whose previous convictions include firearms offences, burglary, robbery, escaping from lawful custody, assault, trespass and larceny, apologised to the family.

“I want to apologise to the xxxxxxxxxs. I let myself go and it was never my intention to do that. When I have drink, I don’t think,” he said.

His mother, Mrs Maureen Crowe, said her son had a terrible life and was beaten as a child by his father.

He was also put into St Joseph’s Christian Brothers School in Clonmel where she alleges that he was sexually abused.

Mr Nolan told the court that his suggestions that he was part of the Westies were just “fantasy.”

“He has an appalling record. He has been in prison in some shape or form for 35 of his 47 years of his life. If he was a prison officer he would be out on pension now.

“He has left a trail of disruption but this happened in the throws of alcohol consumption.”

Passing sentence, Judge John Aylmer said he placed the offence at the higher end of the scale for such burglaries.

He said there was significant violence involved as well as threats to kill with references all being made to connections to Dublin gangland criminals.

Judge Aylmer said the offence merited a sentence of nine years in prison before he considered the mitigating circumstances but noted he had an “appalling record.”

He took the early guilty plea into account and also said there was an obvious level of intoxication.

“I accept there was a certain lack of premeditation. He was drawn into it due to a certain level by intoxication, going along with the plan albeit it with it very enthusiastically as the plan of his co-accused unfolded,” he added.

He said he needed to give Darby some light at the end of the tunnel saying that he noted he had replaced his drugs habit with a drink habit and that he started had a lot of rehabilitation to do.

He sentenced the accused to eight years in prison but suspended the final two years and backdated the term from December 20th when Darby first went into custody.