Distinctive white stripes on a pair of brown runners, along with a questionable amount of cash, was enough to convince a jury that a Tuam man robbed a convenience store at knifepoint.
During his four-day trial at Galway Circuit Criminal Court last week, 26-year-old Michael Ward, from 29 The New Glebe, Tuam, maintained it was a case of mistaken identity and he was not the man who went into Henchy’s Daybreak, Eyre Square, carrying a knife to rob the shop assistant of €580 shortly after 10pm on September 30, 2019.
A jury of six men and six women took just over two hours last Friday afternoon to decide otherwise, unanimously finding him guilty. Ward was remanded in custody to await sentence on July 22.
The jury was shown the CCTV from the shop’s three cameras. They captured a man coming in wearing a blue hoodie, which partially obscured his face. He walked around the store and then went outside onto the street.
He came back into the store and went inside the counter near the front window. He is seen walking up to Mr Watte as he is serving a couple at a cash-guard till. The man was brandishing a box-cutter knife.
Mr Watte said the man demanded he open the till and give him the money. He explained to him he could not open that till.
He said the man insisted he give him money so he told him there was money in the other regular till. He opened that till and the man grabbed the money and quickly left the shop.
The shock of what had just happened was evident as Mr Watte could be seen on the CCTV grabbing hold of the counter for a few moments to steady himself after the robber had left.
“I was scared, I could see the knife in his hand. I opened the till and stood back. The man took the money and left,” he said.
He served customers for a few minutes and then when the shop emptied out, he closed the door before calling the Gardai and his boss.
In reply to prosecuting barrister, Geri Silke, Mr Watte said he remembered the man was wearing brown shoes and a hoodie.
Katie Kerr gave evidence she and her ex-partner, Jonathan Cronin were in the shop that night. She said Cronin stopped to talk to a man he knew in Eyre Square earlier. She said she didn’t know this man but now knew him to be the accused.
She said she and Cronin went into the shop to get a soft drink and Ward followed them in and started talking to Cronin again. She saw Ward go out and come back in again. He had a knife in his hand, she said, and he demanded money from the shop assistant.
Viewing the CCTV, Ms Kerr said the man wearing the hoodie in the shop was Michael Ward.
Ms Kerr said Cronin and Ward left the shop together and she followed them. She lost sight of them at Eglinton Street. She walked down to Woodquay and 15 minutes later she saw then walking back towards her from the waterfront. She noticed Ward was wearing Cronin’s jacket.
Defence barrister, Conal McCarthy asked Ms Kerr why she didn’t ring the Gardai straight away after witnessing the robbery. He said she did not look shocked in the CCTV footage after what happened and she and Cronin could be seen calmly buying scratch cards as the robbery was taking place just inside the counter. She was then captured on the CCTV calmly walking out of the shop behind both men.
He suggested she had not been an innocent bystander and was involved in the robbery.
Mr McCarthy said she lied to the jury because on the CCTV she could be seen buying a scratch card and not a drink.
He said the purchase of scratch cards by both her and Cronin at the precise time the robbery took place was to act as a ruse to keep Mr Watte at the till.
He suggested the couple acted as a barrier, blocking other customers from coming near the till until the robbery had taken place inside the counter.
She denied knowing anything about the robbery.
Mr McCarthy put it to Kerr that she had a sense of loyalty to the father of her children and had not put the blame on him.
“You decided to throw my client ‘under the bus’. Mr Ward was not in the shop that night and the allegations you have made are a pack of lies,” he said.
“I didn’t make this story up. What I’m saying is the truth,” Ms Kerr told the jury.
Detective Gerry Carroll told the jury that after Ward’s description was circulated, Garda Diarmuid Cloonan arrested him at 12.35am near the Kings Head. He was wearing a black and grey jacket – similar to the one worn by Cronin in the CCTV – and was also wearing brown shoes.
Det Carroll said he showed Ward the pair of brown runners he had been wearing when arrested. They had white soles and a white stripe on the uppers, running diagonally from the laces to the sole. He agreed with Det Carroll that they were unusual.
Det Carroll said he also showed Ward €140 cash which was found on him following his arrest the previous night.
Ward said he got €60 from a girl, €30 was his own and the rest was from begging. He conceded he could not account for where the cash came from.
Ward identified Jonathan Cronin on the CCTV footage. He said he didn’t know who Cronin was talking to in the shop.
He agreed the jacket he had been wearing when arrested was similar to the one worn by Cronin in the CCTV.
He denied on several occasions during further questioning over three interviews that he was the man wearing the hoodie.
Det Carroll said he obtained a search warrant two days after the robbery to search Katie Kerr’s home for items relating to the robbery. She made a statement naming Ward as the culprit.
Gardai believed Cronin had Ward’s hoodie, but a search of the house proved fruitless.
Judge Rory McCabe directed the preparation of reports on Ward prior to sentence taking place in July.
Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises
From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.
Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.
She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.
“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.
“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.
She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.
In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.
But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.
“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.
“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.
Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.
However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.
“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.
“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”
In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.
“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”
Official opening of Galway’s new pedestrian and cycle bridge
The new Salmon Weir pedestrian and cycle bridge will be officially opened to the public next Friday, May 26.
Work on the €10 million bridge got underway in April 2022, before the main structure was hoisted into place in early December.
A lunchtime tape-cutting ceremony will take place on Friday, as the first pedestrians and cyclists traverse the as-yet-unnamed bridge.
The Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, previously said the bridge, once opened, would remove existing conflicts between pedestrians, cyclists and traffic “as well as facilitating the Cross-City Link public transport corridor over the existing 200-year-old bridge”.
The naming of the new bridge has been under discussion by the Council’s Civic Commemorations Committee since late last year.
One name that has been in the mix for some time is that of the first woman in Europe to graduate with an engineering degree – Alice Perry.
Ms Perry, who was from Wellpark, graduated from Queen’s College Galway (now University of Galway) in 1906. The university’s engineering building is named in her honour.
The bridge was built by Jons Civil Engineering firm in County Meath and was assembled off-site before being transported to Galway. Funding for the project was provided in full by the National Transport Authority and the European Regional Development Fund.
(Photo: Sheila Gallagher captured the city’s new pedestrian footbridge being raised on the south side of the Salmon Weir Bridge in December. It will officially open next Friday, May 26).
Minister branded ‘a disgrace’ for reversing land rezoning in Galway City
From the Galway City Tribune – Minister of State for Local Government and Planning, Kieran O’Donnell was labelled a “disgrace” for overturning councillors’ decisions to rezone land in the new City Development Plan.
Minister O’Donnell (pictured) confirmed in a letter to Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath last week that he was reversing 25 material alternations made by councillors to the CDP 2023-29. He made the decision on the advice of Office of Planning Regulator (OPR).
Minister O’Donnell directed that 14 land parcels that were subject to land-use zoning changes by councillors as part of the Material Alterations to the Draft CDP should be reversed.
He directed that a further 11 land parcels in the city should become “unzoned”.
The Minister found that the CDP had not been made in a manner consistent with recommendations of the OPR, which required specific changes to the plan to ensure consistency with the national planning laws and guidelines.
At last week’s Council meeting Cllr Eddie Hoare (FG) asked for clarity on the process by which councillors could rezone the lands that had been changed by the Minister’s direction.
Cllr Declan McDonnell said, “What he [Minister O’Donnell] has done is an absolute disgrace”.
And he asked: “Do we have to have another development plan meeting to deal with it?”
Both Cllrs Hoare and McDonnell wondered what would become of the lands that were rezoned or unzoned by the ministerial direction.
Mr McGrath said the Council had put forward an argument in favour of retaining the material alterations in the plan, but ultimately the Minister sided with OPR.
He said if councillors want to make alterations to the new plan, they could go through the process of making a material alteration but this was lengthy.
The Save Roscam Peninsula campaign welcomed the Minister’s decision.
In a statement to the Galway City Tribune, it said the direction would mean the Roscam village area on the Roscam Peninsula will be unzoned and a number of land parcels would revert back to agriculture/high amenity.
A spokesperson for the campaign said: “the material alterations made by city councillors following lobbying by developers continued the long-standing practice of councillors facilitating a developer-led plan rather than an evidence- and policy-based plan that meets the needs of the city.
“The Minister’s direction is an important step in restoring confidence in the planning system. It is clear from the City Council’s own evidence on future housing projections that there was no requirement to zone these lands for residential purposes in order to meet the needs of the targeted population increase up to 2029,” the spokesperson added.