Judge condemns Limerick rugby ‘thug’ who ‘beat head off’ garda

Mike Dwane


Mike Dwane

AN UNDERAGE rugby international has been branded a thug by a judge for assaulting an off-duty garda in the city centre last year.

AN UNDERAGE rugby international has been branded a thug by a judge for assaulting an off-duty garda in the city centre last year.

Judge Eugene O’Kelly told 19-year-old Craig McCallum that his attack on Garda Paul Bentley brought no honour to Shannon RFC or to the game of rugby.

Mr McCallum, of Pike Avenue, Garryowen, pleaded guilty to the assault of Garda Bentley, causing him harm, at Cruise’s Street in the early hours of November 11, 2011.

Det Sgt Ronan McDonagh said Garda Bentley had been out with friends; had gone to a fast food outlet and was eating on a windowsill outside when he was approached by three males shortly after 2am. They began “shouting at him, having identified him as a member of An Garda Siochana”, Det Sgt McDonagh said.

Mr McCallum then struck Garda Bentley twice in the face and the resultant injuries included a cut to the upper lip and the loosening of a tooth. Garda Bentley was still receiving orthodontic treatment. Det Sgt McDonagh said that CCTV evidence showed Garda Bentley had “made no effort to retaliate” and the assault had been instigated by Mr McCallum.

Solicitor Tom Kiely said the incident had been “entirely out of character” for Mr McCallum, who has no prior convictions and had not come to the attention of gardai before or since.

Mr McCallum had been out with a group of friends who did not include the two men he “fell in with” and with whom he had started to abuse Garda Bentley. The court heard that it was another man - and who admitted a public order offence arising from the same incident - who had identified Paul Bentley as a garda.

Mr McCallum’s memory of the incident was “vague to say the least”, said Mr Kiely, but when shown video evidence, he agreed that it was he who had struck Garda Bentley, for which he had “expressed immediate and genuine remorse”.

The teenager, who appeared in court in an IRFU tracksuit top, was “heavily involved in rugby” and had been capped at underage level for Munster and Ireland, Mr Kiely said. The solicitor submitted a reference from a coach of Shannon RFC, explaining his involvement with the club and “how well he has been doing”. There were “high hopes for this young man”, Mr Kiely said.

Judge O’Kelly asked why, if Mr McCallum had been so remorseful, had he sought a hearing date rather than “come in on the very first day and say sorry”.

“He hardly needed statements to know he beat the head off Garda Bentley, who has required significant ongoing orthodontic treatment,” said the judge.

“Members of An Garda Siochana have an extremely difficult and onerous task to do which is not helped by public order incidents on the streets. When off-duty, they should be entitled to enjoy their time off without thugs identifying them and assaulting them,” he added.

Turning to Mr McCallum, Judge O’Kelly said “you bring no honour to your club or to rugby in general”.

Garda Bentley was to be “congratulated that he showed such restraint when confronted by these thugs” and when he would have been entitled to defend himself. The judge questioned what worth an apology was to somebody who had “suffered greviously” and had Mr McCallum placed in custody in order to hear what he was able to offer in compensation before passing sentence.

Mr Kiely said his client earned €188 per week through Youthreach and would be able to set aside €50 each week.

Judge O’Kelly remanded him on bail to appear before the court again on October 25, ordering Mr McCallum to lodge €50 on each of the next 15 weeks - totalling €750 - with his solicitor to compensate Garda Bentley. The judge also directed him to apologise to the officer in writing.