A 51-year-old man who threatened a man with an axe telling him he had “split in two” someone who previously entered the property, was found guilty of a number of offences at Manorhamilton District Court.
John Flanagan, 3 Rouse Close, Knock Stafford, United Kingdom pleaded not guilty to three charges relating to an incident on May 29, 2021 at Kilcoon, Dromahair. He was charged with threatening to kill or cause harm; criminal damage to a car and producing in a manner likely unlawfully to intimidate another person any article capable of inflicting serious injury, in this case, an axe.
In the court Mr Flanagan said that he had moved to Ireland to care for his mother 18 months ago and was living with her in Co Sligo.
State Solicitor, Noel Farrell explained that Josef Pinzari had been carrying out an inspection of a recently repossessed, partially built property in Dromahair when he was approached by the defendant, who was carrying an axe.
“He came out of the hedges and threatened him,” said Mr Farrell.
He said that Mr Pinzari did not know the defendant and had begun recording the incident on his phone. This video was shown in the court.
Mr Farrell noted that the video showed the defendant heading to Mr Pinzari's vehicle and noted that the defendant told Mr Pinzari that he had “split in two” the last person who was on the property.
A physical altercation occurred near the vehicle and Mr Pinzari disarmed Mr Flanagan, taking his axe and placing it in the boot of his car before driving away.
Mr Farrell said that as Mr Pinzari drove away Mr Flanagan struck the car, a Mercedes Benz, causing damage.
Mr Pinzari drove to Manorhamilton Garda Station where he reported the incident and then was directed to Sligo Garda Station where photos of the damage to his vehicle were taken by scenes of crime officers.
Gda William Powell told the court that he had been on duty on May 29 and had taken a statement of the incident from Mr Pinzari.
Gda Powell acknowledged there had been a delay in conducting an interview with the defendant, Mr Flanagan, who wasn't interviewed until October, five months later, but said this was due to “circumstances beyond his control”.
“We (the gardai) were satisfied that Mr Pinzari didn't know Mr Flanagan so the level of risk was low that this would happen again,” he added.
In cross examination, defence solicitor, Conor Maguire, put it to Gda Powell that the statement in the video where his client talks about “splitting in two” someone was not a threat aimed at Mr Pinzari but rather a “figure of speech” use by his client.
Citing the example of the phrase “my feet are killing me” Mr Maguire pointed out this didn't literally mean that a person's feet were killing them, “it's just a figure of speech. It's hyperbole”.
Likewise, he said, Mr Flanagan's use of the words “split in two” was also hyperbole and wasn't meant literally as a threat.
Gda Powell observed “I think I'd be more worried about a fellow with an axe”.
Mr Maguire said that his client had believed that Mr Pinzari was trying to break into a house he believed belonged to his brother.
He put it to Gda Powell that it was “reasonable for him (Mr Flanagan) to try and discern what this man was doing on the property”.
However Gda Powell said that if Mr Flanagan had suspected someone was trying to break into his brother's house he “would have thought he would call the gardaí” not confront him.
Mr Maguire put it to the garda that his client had asked Mr Pinzari to identify himself three or four times and he had refused to do so adding “the video is a very poor reflection of the actual event”.
Mr Maguire said that Mr Pinzari was a “big man well able to defend himself” in comparison to his client but Gda Powell said that he could see little difference in the height of the defendant and Mr Pinzari.
Taking the stand Mr Pinzari said that he worked for Blackwater Asset Management and was carrying out a property inspection on behalf of receivers. He said that he had keys to the property and as part of his brief had to take photos and file a report.
He arrived at the property at around 12pm, completed the inspection and was in the process of closing the front door when Mr Flanagan approached him with an axe.
He said he took out his phone and began recording.
When he noted that Mr Flanagan was going straight to his car he followed him adding that Mr Flanagan told him he had “split in two” the last person who had come onto the property.
Mr Pinzari said that when he first appeared he believed the target of the defendant was his vehicle, not himself and he had been trying to talk to him to get him to calm down.
However he said that Mr Flanagan put both hands on the handle of the axe and raised it above his head and “tried to hit him with the axe” as he “came alongside”. A struggle ensued and both fell to the ground. He disarmed Mr Flanagan, picked up the axe and put it in the boot of his vehicle before driving away.
As he did so he said that Mr Flanagan grabbed the back bumper of the vehicle and then hit the car from the side causing minor damage. He said he later sold on the vehicle, without repairing the damage.
Under cross examination by Mr Maguire Mr Pinzari denied that Mr Flanagan had asked him to identify himself and insisted the defendant had approached him with an axe “from the start”.
“I didn't get a chance to say who I was. When I first saw him he was coming with an axe,” he said. “I was thinking he was going to destroy my car”.
Mr Pinzari accepted he had “some defence training” from his 10 years in the industry but said he had only moved to disarm Mr Flanagan when he raised the axe.
He also denied claims by Mr Maguire that he had been there on the date in question to change the locks on the property and had a hammer in his hands when Mr Flanagan met him. When Mr Maguire produced a report on which Mr Pinzari had checked that the locks had been changed, Mr Pinzari explained he had merely been checking off that the work had been done as part of his report. “I did not change the locks,” he said stressing, “I had no hammer. I was not doing any works.” He said the banging noise Mr Flanagan heard could have been him yanking the handle of the door up and down to enable the lock to engage, adding he had difficulty locking it as it was stiff.
He acknowledged he was not wearing a uniform and that there was no signage on his vehicle, but Mr Pinzari said he would have shown ID if he had been asked “but I didn't get the chance”.
He said he had spent “a maximum” of 5-10 minutes at the property taking photos inside and out and doing the checklist, only meeting Mr Flanagan as he was finishing up and exiting the property.
Detective Garda Mark Benson gave a brief outline of two interviews carried out with Mr Flanagan in October 2021, some five months after the incident.
Following this Mr Maguire insisted there was insufficient evidence connecting his client with the damage to Mr Pinzari's car. “It's simply Mr Pinzari's word,” he said, adding gardai had taken no forensic steps to link his client to the damage.
Taking the stand, Mr Flanagan explained that he had been cutting up wood at his mother’s home place next door when a neighbour informed him that there was someone at his brother’s house.
He said that he walked across the road and “across a bit of a field” and when he arrived he saw a man “with a hammer” at the front door of his brother's house. “He looked like he was hammering the lock (on the front door),” he said.
Mr Flanagan said he spoke to the man asking him who he was three or four times but the man ignored him.
“When I kept at him he said ‘I haven’t got to tell you who I am’,” said Mr Flanagan.
“I told him you need to identify yourself. He was very, very mute in his conversation, he just smiled at me.”
Mr Flanagan said there had been problems with people stealing from his family property in the past and he was worried that this was an attempted break-in.
He went back to the yard where he had been cutting wood and he returned with an axe “to scare (Mr Pinzari) off”.
He admitted that he headed with the axe in the direction of Mr Pinzari’s car saying that he thought if he did so it would get a reaction, “and it did” he said.
“I had no intention of hitting (Mr Pinzari) with the axe. I have never been in trouble with the law before.”
Mr Flanagan told the court that he had not initially been aware that Mr Pinzari was recording him but said “he had a phone in one hand and he had a hammer in the other and he was swinging his arms in karate moves”.
Mr Flanagan said that he grabbed the axe with both of his hands as Mr Pinzari was “doing all these moves” and “then the next thing I knew I was on the ground. I grabbed both his (Mr Pinzari’s) wrists” he told the court because “he was trying to hit me with his elbows”.
Mr Flanagan said that he was left on the ground and Mr Pinzari took the axe and at this stage, Mr Flanagan said he noticed what he believed to be a blade in the boot of Mr Pinzari’s car.
“I said to myself this is getting serious now so I backed off and he just sped off (in his car),” explained the defendant.
Mr Farrell asked if Mr Flanagan was aware on the day of the incident, that his brother’s home had been repossessed.
Mr Flanagan said he had been aware that his brother “had some problems but he didn’t go into details with me. I wasn’t aware he lost the house”.
Mr Farrell also sought clarification on the stage of construction of the property.
“This house is only partially built. What would anyone be able to steal from an empty, unfinished house?” he asked Mr Flanagan.
“I’m not sure what is in the house. I was not in the house,” acknowledged Mr Flanagan. “I know there were tools (in my brother’s) shed” and “obviously there would have been tools at some stage when the house was being built. I would have taken it that there would be tools in it (the house).”
Mr Flanagan said that the whole incident with Mr Pinzari happened so fast that “I didn’t know what he looked like or what his car looked like”.
Mr Farrell pointed out that Mr Pinzari had been driving a 14 reg Mercedes Benz “not the type of car usually used when someone is there to burglarise a house.”
When asked what Mr Flanagan had meant when he told Mr Pinzari that he had “split in two” the last person who was on the property, while holding an axe, the defendant said that it had been a “rhetorical question”. “I was just trying to scare him off,” admitted Mr Flanagan.
He also said that Mr Pinzari had been quite intimidating looking when he met him at his brother’s house. “He (Mr Pinzari) was around 6 foot 4 and he was 18 to 20 stone. He seems to have lost a lot of weight since then,” claimed Mr Flanagan.
Asked why Mr Flanagan had not reported the attempted break-in to gardai. Mr Flanagan acknowledged that he “didn’t report it”.
Mr Farrell dismissed Mr Flanagan’s claims of seeing a blade in the boot of Mr Pinzari’s car.
“You couldn’t even describe his (Mr Pinzari’s) car and you aren’t sure if you saw Mr Pinzari put the axe in the boot of his car and yet you saw a blade in the boot of the car, that’s amazing,” he told Mr Flanagan.
To which Mr Flanagan said “I didn’t go anywhere near his (Mr Pinzari’s) car.”
Mr Maguire said that it was clear there are “two conflicting versions” of what happened on the date in question.
He said that there were “many inconsistencies” in the evidence presented by the prosecution and adding he believed Mr Pinzari was changing the locks on the premises and that was why he had been banging on the front door with a hammer. He said that Mr Flanagan’s comments about ‘splitting in two’ another person who came to the property was ‘hyperbole’ and not a genuine threat.
He also said there is “insufficient” evidence his client was responsible for the damage to Mr Pinzari’s car.
“I would be unjust and unfair to convict my client for these offences,” said Mr Maguire.
Judge Sandra Murphy said that the evidence of Mr Pinzari was “very clear and consistent” adding this “stood up very firmly and consistently under vigorous cross examination.”
She said that Mr Flanagan did have a case to answer adding “unfortunately his evidence did not persuade me and I am satisfied to convict him on each on these charges”.
Addressing the court in mitigation Mr Maguire said this client is a 51-year-old father of two adult children who is now a full-time carer for his mother.
“He has never been in court before and he was absolutely determined to defend these charges. I would suggest some community service would be appropriate.”
He said his client had “no intention” to attack Mr Pinzari and said that the situation had “gotten out of hand”.
Judge Sandra Murphy said these “are extremely serious charges with very onerous and draconian penalties”.
She ordered a probation report to assess Mr Flanagan’s suitability for community service before remanding Mr Flanagan on continuing bail until September 14.
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.