Teenage boys avoid jail in park attack

by Gazette Reporter
0 comment

By Fiona Ferguson

Two teenage boys have avoided prison terms for their roles in a violent incident in a Dublin park which left an Italian student seriously injured.

Matthew O’Connell, now aged 20, and Evan Vella, now aged 19, became involved in the attack on the 16-year-old student after the victim’s group was mistakenly accused of throwing a bottle.

O’Connell was described as one of the main antagonists initially, and Vella admitted punching the young student once; both prior to a later, more serious assault by a group of up to ten males.

The young student was later chased through the park by a group of up to ten young Irish people, who then hit him to the head on the ground until he managed to escape and run to safety.

O’Connell, of Ledwidge Crescent, Bray, Wicklow, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to assault causing harm at Blackrock, Co Dublin, on November 27, 2021. He has one prior conviction.

Vella, of Benamore Square, Newtown Park Avenue, Blackrock, pleaded guilty to violent disorder on the same occasion. He has no previous convictions.

Passing sentence Judge Martin Nolan said this had been a reprehensible and very frightening event for the injured party.

He noted Vella’s involvement was one punch. He said he should not have done it but noted his good record, young age at the time, stable background and that it was unlikely he will reoffend.

He imposed a 16-month suspended sentence and ordered him to pay over €1,500 to the injured party within six months if he wanted to accept it or alternatively donate it to charity.

Judge Nolan said O’Connell had been a serious actor in this event but noted he had achieved very well despite a challenging upbringing and had support from his family.

The judge said he had skimmed the psychological report and noted O’Connell had difficulties.

“But most people go through life with difficulties without inflicting terrible violence on other people,” he said. He noted rehabilitation was an important factor in sentencing young people.

He said he had ask if it was necessary to imprison O’Connell to achieve rehabilitation which would benefit society. He said the court also had to consider punishment, but the younger a person was, the more regard the court had to give to rehabilitation.

He said it was a “close run thing”, but due to his age and lack of convictions, he would impose a three-year suspended sentence. He ordered O’Connell to pay over €5,000 and gather a further €5,000 within a year.

Judge Nolan said his attitude to compensation was he first decided whether a person deserved to go to prison, and if they did not, then compensation was a way to punish the accused and help the injured party if they decided to accept it.

He said it was his experience that young people were capable of the most terrible stupidity, and when they acted in mobs, the stupidity and violence increased greatly.

Sergeant Peter Woods told Joseph Mulrean BL, prosecuting, that the victim and his friends were in Blackrock Park at about 7 pm, with other groups of young people nearby.

Sgt Woods said a bottle was thrown from the bandstand and landed near a boy and girl seated near the victim’s group. The girl came over to remonstrate with the victim’s group on the misunderstanding they had thrown it.

Following an altercation, a Spanish student in the victim’s group was punched and ran from the park.

The rest of the victim’s group followed him up the hill out of the park and were pursued by a group, who then stopped and went back down the hill.

The victim’s group, three boys and one girl, were then suddenly confronted by a group of approximately ten boys and men, including the two accused. The Spanish student was hit again, so he ran and hid.

The Italian student got separated from the rest of his group and was shouted at, demanding to know where his Spanish friend had gone. He was punched at this stage by Vello. He described O’Connell as one of the main antagonists at this point.

The victim then ran into the park, which was in darkness, and was tackled to the ground by the group. He was set upon by approximately ten males and hit almost exclusively to the head and face.

The victim, with a very badly injured face covered in blood, managed to get up and run away.

He tried to ring his friends, but his phone was covered in blood, and his jaw was broken, so they could not understand him. They eventually found him, and he was taken to hospital.

Gardai recovered CCTV from the area, and an enterprising garda searched Tic Tok for footage from the night, which proved useful to the investigation.

O’Connell was interviewed the following month and had an injury to his foot, which he said had been caused by football.

The victim lost two teeth; his jaw was broken in a number of places, necessitating it to be wired shut for two months. He also sustained nerve damage to his lower lip. A psychological report outlined he suffers from post-traumatic stress, and his day-to-day life is still affected.

He wrote a letter to the court saying the visit to Ireland had been an “investment in the present and in the future”, which he had hoped would improve his life. He outlined the trauma he and his family had endured since the attack, saying it was still an “open hurt.”

He said he knows the offence is not representative of Irish people and hopes this experience of pain will never happen again to another family.

Sgt Woods agreed with Aoife O’Leary BL, defending O’Connell, that the events had been extremely chaotic and frightening, and while he was assaulted on the ground, the victim could not say who inflicted what blows at that stage when he sustained his most serious injuries.

He agreed that the only evidence found, namely the blood on his runners and tracksuit, was against O’Connell but that there were nine others involved who were not before the court.

Ms O’Leary said she was instructed to apologise to the victim, and her client had brought €5,000 to court. She said her client is working and has been accepted onto a music course.

She said he was a young man with some difficulties in life but his mother was doing her best to support him. She said he is doing everything he can to rehabilitate and engage in pro-social activities.

She said in relation to the offence, he had got involved in something that was none of his business after getting the wrong end of the stick, with the misunderstanding about the thrown bottle being the “touch paper”, which led him into a fight that had nothing to do with him.

She submitted an immediate custodial term was not required in this case.

Luigi Rea BL, defending Vella, said his client had not come to any further adverse attention and was doing an apprenticeship. He said he does not have a drink or drug problem and hopefully will not be back before the courts.

Related Articles