Burglar who stabbed homeowner during raid is jailed for 3 years

October 20, 2023

A young burglar who stabbed a homeowner after he was caught hiding in his daughter’s bedroom has been jailed for three years.

Co Donegal man Fionn Ponsonby had a clean record and was given chance after chance by Judge John Aylmer at Letterkenny Circuit Court to engage with the Probation Services but failed to do so.

The Judge said today that he had no option but to jail the 23-year-old.

The court heard how Ponsonby pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary at the home of Joe and Sandra McGonagle at Cullion, Letterkenny on November 17th, 2018.

He was caught when the family’s pet dog began barking leading Mr McGonagle to investigate and finding the window of his daughter’s bedroom open and a man crouching down behind her bed.

Mr McGonagle wrestled with the burglar after Ponsonby had produced a penknife and tried to “stick” Mr McGonagle in the arm.

He began to shout at the accused “Drop the knife, drop the knife” as he tried to restrain the burglar before eventually pinning him down and holding him until Gardai arrived.

Sandra McGonagle was described as “absolutely terrified” as the incident unfolded.

A number of items were subsequently discovered outside the window including a torch, a Samsung phone, a Nintendo, and assorted jewellery.

A number of empty cans of Tennents Lager and Carlsberg and a nearly empty bottle of wine.

Ponsonby was arrested, taken to Letterkenny Garda station and initially claimed he had entered the wrong house and fell asleep thinking it was his.

He later admitted that he knew it was not his home.

Garda Genevieve Sherlock gave evidence of arresting Ponsonby whom the court was told had been homeless and was taking drink and drugs.

She agreed with Ponsonby’s barrister, Mr Peter Nolan, that his client was a “lost soul.”

Ponsonby, a father-of-two who now had an address at Sandy Row in Castlefin, took to the witness stand to apologise to Mrs McGonagle and her daughter who were in court.

He said “I’d just like to apologise and say sorry for scaring you and your daughter. It’s not something that has ever happened before.

“I don’t know how to make amends but I’m awfully sorry for what happened on that night.”

The defendant told Mr Nolan that he had been living in an abandoned house at the time that he sometimes shared with “drug taking friends”.

He had not been living with his parents since he was fifteen and had left the family home.

He told the court he had been in a relationship and had two children but they had been taken into care. “I can’t see them until I’m sober.”

The court was told that Ponsonby said he had spent four days at the White Oaks addiction treatment centre but had been discharged as a result of having drugs in his system.

He had been born in Australia where his mother was from. His father was from Donegal but his parents had broken up when he was six or seven years of age.

He said he had been bullied at primary school and revealed that he had been sexually abused at the age of eight.

“You’re at the end of the road. The next stage is Castlerea Prison,’ Mr Nolan warned him.

Addressing Judge John Aylmer, defence counsel said his client was the eldest of seven children.

The accused had been beaten up while living on the streets and had been badly assaulted with an iron bar. He had become addicted to cannabis and heroin.

“He has no family so to speak of,” said Mr Nolan. “The picture that presents itself is very little in the way of relief or hope for Mr Ponsonby.

“He does not have emotional maturity and where would he get it from?,” defence counsel demanded.

His client had brought “great terror” on the McGonagle family. But he was not a violent man and he, Mr Nolan, found him to be a gentle individual.

He had to deal with his addictions and look to complete the course in the White Oaks centre. In this respect, defence counsel asked Judge Aylmer to “take a chance” on his client and allow him to undergo his treatment.

Referring to the incident of aggravated burglary, Judge Alymer said the accused had been in confrontation with the homeowners but fortunately Mr McGonagle had been able to disarm him and had not suffered much of an injury.

He noted that he had come from a difficult background and had made full admissions while entering a plea of guilty at the earliest opportunity.

Judge Aylmer had adjourned the case until today hoping the accused would take the opportunity to undertake the rehabilitation process but said he was still considering a custodial element, stating that a “significant period in custody” might bring the accused to his senses.

Judge Aylmer said he hoped by October concrete evidence would be put before him that the defendant had remained drug free and had re-engaged with the services at White Oaks.

“The ball’s in Mr Ponsonby’s court,’ Mr Nolan maintained.

When Ponsonby appeared in court today, his barrister Mr Nolan said the Probation Report was not favourable.

“All I can say is that he is generally a good natured young man but for some reason he cannot comply with directions, timescales and appointments.

“He tells me everything has gone wrong for him over the past six months but that happens to lots of people and they don’t end up sitting here. He has his whole life in front of him but he doesn’t seem to value it.

“He is only 23 and once he goes to prison you unfortunately will see him before the court again,” said Mr Nolan.

Passing sentence, Judge Aylmer said he had given Ponsonby every opportunity and did not want to send him to prison but he has simply not engaged with the Probation Services.

He added “I had hoped to deal with this on a non-custodial basis but I cannot do that because he has failed to engage but I am not going to throw away the key and leave him without hope.

“I am conscious of his family background and that he went into care at the age of 16 and it is a tragedy that he has ended up where he is today.”

He sentenced Ponsonby to four years in prison but suspended the final 12 months ordering him to engage with the Probation Services upon his release and to abstain from alcohol and drugs during that time.

Upon leaving court, Ponsonby took off his coat and watch and handed them to his father whom he embraced before being led away by prison staff.