The case was heard at the Central Criminal Court
A former garda and another man have been jailed for drug and alcohol-fuelled assaults on two women, which culminated in one woman being bundled into a van and told she would be driven to the mountains and buried.
During the ordeal in April 2021, Dublin man and former garda Stephen Cooper (37) forced a woman to take part in a “strip search” after he claimed she had stolen drugs from him.
Cooper threatened the woman and then told her: “I used to be garda, I know how to do this” and “if you weren't a thief, I wouldn’t have to do this”.
After forcing the crying woman to strip, Cooper then inserted his fingers into her body and repeatedly told her to shut up.
This assault took place at a house in Naas, Co Kildare at the tail end of a four-day drink and drug binge that had begun in a hotel elsewhere in the county.
The victim of this first assault was in a state of shock and left, the court said. Cooper, his accomplice Stephen McGrath (37) and a second woman then moved to a house in Ashfield, Kilteel Road, Rathcoole, Co. Dublin.
When the two men began accusing this woman of stealing cocaine from them, McGrath began a prolonged and vicious assault, kicking and punching the woman repeatedly and tearing clumps of her hair out.
Both men told her at one point that they were going to bring her up the mountains and bury her. They then tried to lift her into the back of a van but she began screaming and kicking out and they stopped and instead put her in the footwell of the front seat.
Cooper handed McGrath a small multi-tool knife and McGrath told the woman “I am going to stick that in your head”. Cooper said to McGrath: “You have to take care of her or we are both fucked”, prosecuting counsel, Edward Doocey BL, told the court.
McGrath drove off with the woman as she begged him to let her live and told him she had a child. She later told gardai that “every time she opened her mouth, he punched her”.
He also pulled down her trousers and underwear and stuck his finger aggressively into her anus.
At their sentence hearing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Martin Nolan said that the men's behaviour was cruel beyond extreme, reprehensible and shameful.
“To say they ill-used these women would be a gross understatement. They terrified them, they threatened they, they assaulted them,” he said.
He said that the second victim must have believed she was going to die and that she was struggling for her very life.
“She must have been absolutely terrified of what was her future,” he said.
Cooper, of Kingswood Heights, Tallaght, Co Dublin, pleaded guilty to assault causing harm of the first woman at a place in Naas. He also pleaded guilty to assault causing harm to the second woman at Rathcoole, making a threat to kill her and to production of an article capable of inflicting harm.
McGrath, of Ashfield, Kilteel Road, Rathcoole pleaded guilty to assault causing harm to the second woman and production of a weapon at Ashfield. He also admitted sexually assaulting her and assault causing harm to her at locations in Tallaght, Co Dublin.
McGrath's four previous convictions are for possession of drugs, dangerous driving and drunk driving and Garda Rob Whitty agreed with Patrick McGrath SC, defending, that these were minor by comparison with the offences before the court. He agreed that this incident was out of character.
Gda Whitty accepted that McGrath is genuinely remorseful and apologetic.
Cooper was jailed in 2014 for perverting the course of justice and drug dealing after he allowed a friend to take the blame when gardai found the drug LSD during a search at the Electric Picnic music festival.
Maurice Coffey SC, defending, said that Cooper came from a respectable family but that a once promising life was ruined by poor choices, particularly around drug use.
He said both men were seriously out of control on the night. He said his client accepts what happened to these women should not have happened and that this is backed up by the guilty pleas.
Mr Coffey said that after serving time for the earlier offences Cooper got his life together, married and set up a business. He said his marriage broke down and his business was hit by Covid and Cooper fell back into drug use and his life spiralled out of control.
Judge Nolan said he was taking into consideration the fact that both men had entered guilty pleas which were practical indications of their remorse and shame and saved the victims the trauma of coming to court.
He said that both men had otherwise contributed to society and he said he had no doubt both men could be reformed or rehabilitated.
“I doubt either man would come before this court again for anything remotely as serious,” he said. He said both men came from good families and have brought great shame to their families.
He described Cooper's assault of the first woman as humiliating and terrifying. He imposed a three-year prison sentence for this assault and another three-year prison term for the threats against the second woman, to run consecutively.
He said that McGrath's level of culpability was greater because of his treatment of the second woman in the vehicle. He said McGrath's behaviour was gross and cruel.
He imposed an eight-year prison sentence, made up of four-and-a-half years for the sexual assault and three-and-a-half years for the assault causing harm.
Responded to report
Garda Rob Whitty told prosecution counsel that on April 23 last year (2021) he responded to a report of an assault by two men at a house in Rathcoole.
The victim had been admitted to hospital and told gardai she had met McGrath a few days before.
He said the pair had spent two days together “in their own company” before meeting Cooper and the first victim. They went to a hotel and were on a binge of drugs and alcohol, with the two men providing the drugs.
They were eventually thrown out of the hotel and went to the house in Naas where the victims later told gardai there were “moments of paranoia and tension” during binge-drinking and drug taking, Mr Doocey told the court.
Counsel said that at one point there was an allegation that cannabis and make-up had gone missing and Cooper became irate and began asking the first victim to empty her pockets and her bag.
He then patted her down in front of everybody and told her to go into bedroom because he wanted to do a more thorough search. He made threats and made her take her bra off and shake it out.
He told her “I used to be garda, I know how to do this”. He then felt her legs and pulled her trousers down. She was crying and he told her: “If you weren't a thief I wouldn’t have do this”.
He then inserted his fingers inside her and “twirled them around as if looking for something”, the victim told gardai. He told her to shut up repeatedly while doing this.
The woman was in state of shock and acutely embarrassed. She left the house and didn't go to gardai and this offending only emerged when the second woman went to gardai.
This second woman told gardai that the three people then left Naas and went to a house in a rural area in Rathcoole where they set themselves up in a “granny flat” at the back.
When the men accused the second woman of taking a bag of cocaine, Cooper grabbed the woman and threw her to the ground. McGrath then began kicking her and stamping on her and Cooper was saying to him: “Don't let her away with that, batter her”.
The woman tried to escape through the door, but McGrath prevented her. He held her hair and punched her in the face and told her: “You love your hair do you?” before he pulled a clump of it out.
The woman managed to get out through an open window and ran to the main house but McGrath caught up with her. She lost consciousness and regained it to find McGrath dragging her back to the flat.
She heard both men saying, “they were going to bring her up the mountains and bury her”, Mr Doocey told the court.
The men tried to put her in the back of a van with McGrath holding her by the top of her body and Cooper holding her legs. She managed to resist them and they then put her in the footwell of the van.
When McGrath drove off he kept punching her and kicking her. The woman told gardai that “he was driving like a maniac”. CCTV footage of the journey showed the van coming to a stop at one point and the woman trying to get away and McGrath dragging her back.
At one point he aggressively sexually assaulted her, the court heard. The incident ended when he let her out and she raised the alarm.
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