Donegal man jailed for driving a stolen Mercedes

October 27, 2023

A Donegal man has been sentenced to jail after being found driving a car which was stolen in England.

James Mitchell was given a 20-month prison sentence having been found handling the stolen Mercedes E350 AMG in January 2020. It was discovered that the vehicle had a cloned registration.

Mitchell, now 42 and with 72 previous convictions, was also put off the road for 15 years by Judge John Aylmer at Letterkenny Circuit Court.

At the time of this incident, Mitchell was supposed to be serving a ten-year driving ban, handed down in 2014 for driving without insurance.

Detective Garda Derek Connaughton outlined the facts of the case to Ms Fiona Crawford BL, counsel for the State.

Gardai noted the registration of a black Mercedes and investigations showed that it was a cloned registration. The vehicle was registered to a garage in the UK that confirmed that they were in possession of a Mercedes car with that registration plate, Detective Garda Connaughton said.

When Mitchell was approached at The Elms, Letterkenny, on January 16, 2020 he was holding a key for the car in his hand and the driver’s window was smashed. Mitchell had just driven back to the property at The Elms when Gardai swooped.

Under caution, Mitchell told officers that he had bought the car for breaking. The vehicle was seized and the chassis number was traced back to a Mr Singh in Wolverhampton. He had left the car to a garage in October 2019 to repair a leak and the vehicle was stolen when the premises was burgled.

Mr Singh was said to be ‘absolutely gutted’ that the car was stolen. The vehicle was subsequently returned to him by the authorities.

Mitchell told Garda that he did not know the car was stolen and said he bought the car at the docks in Belfast as a written-off category B car. He said he bought the car for €5,500 and the window had been broken during a domestic dispute with his partner.

Mitchell was charged that he did without lawful authority or excuse possess stolen property, a black Mercedes E350 AMG, knowing that the property was stolen or being reckless as to whether it was stolen.

He was also charged with driving a mechanically propelled vehicle, a black Mercedes E350 AMG, in a public place without insurance.

The court heard that Mitchell has 72 previous convictions, including three for handling stolen property, seven for theft, three for criminal damage and a range of public order, road traffic and misuse of drugs offences. The court was informed that the accused man had ‘multiple’ no insurance convictions.

Asked by Mr Peter Nolan BL, Mitchell’s barrister, if there were any difficulties when Gardai went to search Mitchell’s property, Detective Garda Connaughton said officers hid behind the suspect until he pulled into his driveway.

Mr Nolan said his client is a 42-year-old separated man who is a father-of-five. Mr Nolan told the court that Mitchell did not know that the car was stolen but ‘accepts that he may have been reckless’. Mr Nolan said Mitchell has worked for around 15 years as a panel beater and entered business alongside his brother earlier this year having previously worked in the meat factory in Carrigans.

Mitchell has been in custody since May and this has ‘vastly improved his heath’, Mr Nolan added, noting that Mitchell has been dealing with drug and alcohol problems.

“He has gained some wisdom and insight and he sees that he needs to get his life in place and structured,” Mr Nolan said, asking the court to consider Mitchell’s early plea in the matter.

Judge Aylmer said he considered that the case was ‘at the more extreme end of recklessness for a person involved in the motor trade’. An aggravating feature of the case was that Mitchell was disqualified from driving at the time.

Judge Aylmer said the handling of the stolen car charge merited a starting point of two-and-a-half years imprisonment and the driving without insurance charge should have a starting point of six months in prison before mitigation.

That the vehicle was returned to its owner was not in mitigation, Judge Aylmer said, complimenting good police work.

He said there was some level of cooperation from Mitchell, who he said has a ‘good work history’ and has five children. He said Mitchell had tendered an early guilty plea, albeit when he was ‘caught red-handed’.

For handling the stolen Mercedes, Mitchell was sentenced to 20 months imprisonment while he was given a four-month prison sentence for driving without insurance. The sentences are to run concurrently to each other and consecutive to a sentence currently being served by Mitchell.

Mitchell was also disqualified from holding a driving licence for a period of 15 years.