Donegal man who torched Garda patrol car “wanted to be arrested”

November 2, 2023

A man who set a patrol car on fire outside a local Garda station causing €17,000 of damage claims he only carried out the arson attack so he could get arrested.

Gary McGinley appeared at Letterkenny Circuit Court in Co Donegal where he pleaded guilty to the attack at Castlefin Garda Station.

The 36-year-old was caught on CCTV carrying a can of petrol before dousing the Hyundai i30 car and watching it catch fire in the early hours of January 21st last.

When arrested McGinley claimed he had been drinking heavily for a number of days and was suicidal and wanted to be arrested.

The court had previously heard that an off-duty Garda noticed the car on fire and managed to use a fire extinguisher to stop the blaze from spreading to the station just eight feet away.

Detective Garda Robin Doyle gave details of the bizarre attack which happened just feet from the local garda station.

He told how after the attack at detectives trawled CCTV footage and spotted a man wearing Nike runners, an Adidas tracksuit and a grey coat carrying out the attack and recognised him as Gary McGinley.

Later that day at 5pm, a number of Gardai called to the home of McGinley which was just 400 yards from the Garda station at Emmett Park.

The accused man aggressively resisted arrest but was eventually taken away to Letterkenny Garda Station for questioning.

McGinley immediately admitted carrying out the attack telling officers “I just burned the patrol car and there’s nothing more to it.”

The accused said he had been on vodka for a number of days and at the end of the interview he just bowed his head.

Detective Doyle told Prosecution barrister, Ms Fiona Crawford, that McGinley has 18 previous convictions for a range of incidents including making threats to kill, theft, intoxication, burglary and assault causing harm.

He was out on bail from the local district court for another matter at the time he torched the patrol car.

Barrister for the accused, Mr Peter Nolan, explained McGinley’s thinking behind what he described as “a hare brained scheme.”

He said his client had been drinking for days and was off his head on vodka and said he was feeling suicidal.

McGinley had said he felt that if he did something like this he could get assistance by being arrested.

Detective Doyle agreed with Mr Nolan that McGinley has not come to the attention of Gardai since but there was no doubt he had his difficulties.

Barrister Nolan said the accused had a very sad upbringing and had been beaten by his father from a young age.

He was a settled traveller and suffered because of this and had been suspended from school 12 times before leaving at the age of sixteen.

He had also been sexually abused by another member of his family at an early age.

Mr Nolan outlined a number of medical reports on McGinley as well as a report from the Probation Services to give an overall picture of his client.

He said that McGinley suffers from alcohol addictions, low moods and self-harming and wanted to plead guilty to be incarcerated to assess his life.

A Probation and Welfare report cited his drug and alcohol problems as well as his difficult family background and said there was a high likelihood that he would reoffend in the next 12 months.

Mr Nolan said that his actions were that of a man crying for help.

“The burning of the Garda car, while reprehensible, was some form of cry for help and unfortunately he chose that way of doing it,” he added.

Judge John Aylmer adjourned the sentencing to allow him time to consider the reports and to “consider what positive things might arise and how to deal with them.”