A man who pleaded guilty to robbery of a service station in Manorhamilton and burglary at a Sligo hotel the following day was given a suspended two year sentence at Carrick-on- Shannon Circuit Court.
Judge John Aylmer said that the man was labouring under significant mental health difficulties and substance abuse at the time which exacerbated his underlying mental health issues and he said he was “getting a chance in a structured way.”
Christopher Gorman, with last known addresses as no fixed abode Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim and 72 St Bridget's Terrace, Sligo, pleaded guilty to robbery of Mullin's Applegreen service station, New Line, Manorhamilton on November 17, 2019 and burglary at the Southern Hotel, Knappagh Road, Sligo on November 18, 2019.
Detective Garda Derek Bonnar, Manorhamilton, said that on Sunday, November 17, 2019 at approximately 6.30pm Gardai responded to an urgent call to Mullin's Applegreen by a young shop assistant, Caitlin O'Hara, who was very distressed.
She said a male had entered the shop and said he had a gun in his pocket and wanted the money in the tills. He told her he was a mental patient and would shoot her straight through the head.
Michael Clancy, the store manager, came to the counter and the man also threatened him and said he had a gun in his pocket and would blow his head off and the girl's as well.
A struggle took place between Mr Clancy and Mr Gorman. Mr Clancy managed to hold him on the ground before he broke free and as he got up he opened the till drawer and grabbed two fistfuls of €50 and €20 notes before making his escape. A total of €1,220 was taken.
Gardai and the owner, John Mullin, arrived shortly after. Footage was viewed and Mr Mullin identified Mr Gorman as he had previously had a number of incidents with him in his Sligo premises earlier that year.
Det Garda Bonnar said the footage showed him go onto the main road, stop a car and drive off towards Sligo. There was no firearm produced.
He said that at 1am on November 18, John Collins, the night porter in the Southern Hotel, Sligo noticed a man sitting in the reception area. He spoke to him and he told him he had nowhere to stay and was cold. Mr Collins allowed him to stay in the reception area and went about his work.
When he returned the man was gone and the till drawer was missing. Gardai were called and Mr Gorman was identified from the footage.
At approximately 5.30am John Mullin was working the night shift in his Sligo service station when he saw Christopher Gorman come into the shop and he confronted him about the incident in Manorhamilton the previous evening.
Mr Gorman ran back to his taxi and went to Ballymote. Mr Mullin pursued the taxi himself and Gardai in Ballymote apprehended Mr Gorman at the train station at 5.55am.
He was interviewed twice and made a full admission, identifying himself to Gardai. Det Garda Bonnar said Gardai have had a number of encounters with Mr Gorman before and were aware of his issues.
The court heard he has 36 previous convictions, including 21 under the Theft Act, five for public order and five for criminal damage.
He is currently serving a prison sentence in Castlerea for two robberies in Sligo during which knives were produced. He was sentenced at Sligo District and Circuit Courts to a total of two and a half years and is due to be released on October 2, 2021.
Defence counsel, Keith O'Grady BL, said no weapons were used on this occasion. He described the robberies as chaotic and impulsive and carried out with no great planning.
He said when he left Manorhamilton Mr Gorman went into Sligo and bought cocaine on the streets.
“We are not dealing with a criminal mastermind, we are dealing with a troubled individual,” Mr O'Grady said.
Det Garda Bonnar agreed with counsel that when treated, counselled and medicated properly Mr Gorman doesn't pose a threat to anybody. Mr O'Grady said he has been very apologetic and it appears he was on a downward spiral from the start of 2019.
Mr Gorman told the court there is no excuse for what he did and for putting those people into such situations.
“I am honestly, genuinely and deeply regretful and sorry for what I've done,” he said and described himself as a most considerate, loving and caring person.
In regard to the Southern Hotel incident he said the man (night porter) was extremely considerate and nice enough to let him in out of the rain and cold. “It was disgusting and horrible to betray his trust and I'm deeply sorry for that. I hope nothing bad came to him for the mistake he made by letting me in,” he said.
Mr Gorman said he was having a psychotic breakdown and had taken cocaine which made things “a billion times worse.”
He said when he first went to Castlerea Prison he was “dragging a lot of the old stuff with me” and wasn't on the right anti-psychotic medication, describing himself as a paranoid schizophrenic with a severe bipolar disorder.
He made an attempt on his life in prison and his cell mate found him in a puddle of blood.
However, he has been treated by Ben O'Keeffe, consultant psychiatrist, in prison and he has really helped him.
“Since then I look at my life with much more appreciation. I'm on a new anti-psychotic which works and really helps me. I'm making great progress with the drug counsellor and with Ben O'Keeffe,” he said, adding that he now hopes to do his Leaving Cert and settle down.
“All I want is a normal wee life,” he said.
Judge Aylmer said the matters before the court were “two very serious offences” and were at the lower end of the mid range. He said they each merited sentences of three years before mitigation.
He said the mitigating factors were his plea, his very full cooperation with the gardai and it was clear he was genuinely remorseful for his involvement in the offences.
Judge Aylmer said Mr Gorman was “labouring under very significant mental health difficulties and substance abuse that exacerbated his underlying mental health issues” and gave him appropriate credit for that.
He reduced the sentence to two years on each count, to run concurrently.
Judge Aylmer indicated they will be consecutive to the sentence imposed at Sligo Circuit Court but, having regard to the totality of the situation, he proposed to suspend the two sentences in their entirety on condition he enter a bond to keep the peace for two years.
During that time he is to abstain completely from alcohol and unprescribed medications. He is to engage with the Probation Service for six months prior to his release and also engage with the mental health services.
Upon his release he will go under the supervision of the Probation Service for two years and comply with all their requirements and attend all treatment and counselling as directed.
He will also engage with the community mental health team and the community addiction team and comply with all their recommendations and supervision.
Mr Gorman must also attend whatever residential treatment is directed of him.
“He's getting a chance in a structured way,” the Judge said.
“If he offends in that two year period he will go back and serve that two year sentence,” he added.