Pic: Mr Justice Paul McDermott who handed down combined sentences of 16-and-a-half years to two men for their roles in the unexplained murder of Thomas McCarthy (Collins)
By Alison O’Riordan
Two men who facilitated a criminal organisation in the unexplained fatal shooting of a man who had no links to crime have received combined jail sentences totalling 16-and-a-half years at the Central Criminal Court.
One of the two men, Charles McClean, will begin his eight-and-a-half year sentence after he has served an eight-year sentence from a previous conviction for conspiring to murder gangland figure Wayne Whelan.
The court had heard during this month’s sentencing hearing that the victim and father of five Thomas McCarthy, who was shot dead at his mother’s home in Dublin more than two years ago, had been due to return to his home in England just hours later, was not known to have any involvement in criminality and that there was “no explanation” for what had happened. Mr McCarthy had suffered nine separate gunshot injuries.
Charles McClean (34), of St Mark’s Drive, Clondalkin and Mark Lee (32) from Balgaddy in Lucan, Co Dublin, admitted facilitating a criminal organisation in the fatal shooting of Mr McCarthy. Mr McCarthy was gunned down when he answered the door at his mother’s house in Ballyfermot on July 27, 2020.
Mr McCarthy’s mother, who witnessed the shooting, had previously described her 55-year-old son as “the kindest, most generous person” who had a “heart of gold”. Pauline McCarthy said that nothing could describe the “complete devastation” and the “heartache and loss” her son’s death had caused the family.
Ms McCarthy made her comments in a victim impact statement read to the court on her behalf during a sentence hearing earlier this month. McClean pleaded guilty that between January 25 and July 27, 2020 inclusive, with knowledge of the existence of a criminal organisation, he intentionally or recklessly committed an act to facilitate the murder of Mr McCarthy. Lee admitted to the same charge between July 26 and July 27, 2020.
Charles McClean has 20 previous convictions, including conspiracy to commit murder over the September 2019 attempted murder of Wayne Whelan, for which he received an eight-year sentence. Whelan survived the murder attempt but was subsequently shot dead following another attack in November 2019.
Mr Justice Paul McDermott said today that it would be a failure on the court’s part to run McClean’s eight-and-a-half year sentence for the facilitation offence into his conspiracy to commit murder sentence. This was the second offence committed by him where the purpose was to kill, the judge said, adding that he had embarked upon it within a short time of the other offence.
The court found that McClean had engaged in two very serious crimes and must pay a penalty for both. Accordingly, the judge said the defendant’s eight-and-a-half year sentence for facilitation would run consecutively to the eight-year sentence he is presently serving for conspiracy to commit murder.
The judge noted that McClean was an important actor in the carefully planned murder of Mr McCarthy, that the evidence established he had given a cue to the shooter when to strike and that he was highly involved in the setting up of the deceased for assassination.
Before delivering the sentence today, Mr Justice McDermott said that Mr McCarthy was living in the UK with his partner for 35 years and had returned home to visit his family and his mother who lived at the address in Ballyfermot. The judge said that gardai had received no motive for the murder of Mr McCarthy and that he was not known to them for any criminal behaviour.
He added: “The murder was premeditated and those involved knew what was intended and were fully committed to their extended roles. Their involvement was essential to the success and completion of the attack”.
Mr Justice McDermott went on to say that the gunman had the comfort and confidence of the practical and essential support of the two defendants and that the crime could not have been committed with the men fulfilling the roles assigned to each of them.
Referring to the three victim impact statements, the judge said they spoke eloquently of the loss inflicted on the McCarthy family and that the consequences will be lifelong for the victim’s family and children. The very impressive statements also showed the significant and important place the deceased held in his family’s lives, he said, adding that Mr McCarthy’s character had been brought to life in the reports “in a very big way”.
Mr Justice McDermott said the harm and destruction brought to the McCarthy family was something he had to consider. “It’s about Mr McCarthy’s killing and he has to be at the forefront of the court’s consideration of the penalties imposed,” he said.
Turning to McClean, the judge said some of his previous convictions were for most serious offences, the most serious being conspiracy to commit murder 11 months prior to this offence. He said the seriousness of McClean’s offending had escalated dramatically in 2019 and 2020. A serious aggravating feature was that McClean had committed the facilitation offence within a year of conspiracy to commit murder over the September 2019 attempted murder of Wayne Whelan. He said McClean had been involved in facilitation of a criminal organisation in the fatal shooting of Mr McCarthy in a “very serious nature”.
Referring to Lee, Mr Justice McDermott said the defendant had played a very significant role in the matter months prior to the offence and had very little interest in the identity of the person to be murdered.
“It was a gang effort, he was loyal to the group. He showed little or no empathy for the deceased’s family and participated in full knowledge of this vicious and carefully planned assassination,” he said. While Lee was said to be lower down the level of the criminal organisation, the judge said the organisation were able to rely on him for loyalty for its murderous purpose.
Having regard to the gravity of the offence, the judge set a headline sentence of 13 years for Lee. In mitigation, the court took into account Lee’s guilty plea which he said saved the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) from a difficult and lengthy trial and had also assisted the McCarthy family to some degree as they did not have to sit through the ordeal of a lengthy trial.
However, Mr Justice McDermott remarked that Lee had very little empathy for the seriousness of his actions and did not consider his remorse sincere. The court also had regard to Lee’s poor health and that he had no relevant previous convictions. Lee has four previous convictions for public order and road traffic offences.
The judge said Lee was assessed as having a high risk of reoffending and had limited motivation to change his current lifestyle.
Lee was sentenced to nine years in prison with the final 12 months suspended for a period of three years.
Passing sentence on McClean, the judge said his involvement in this offence was of a very serious nature and that he had a very prominent role in the arrangements including the monitoring of the victim’s movements. “He was an important actor in a carefully planned murder,” he added.
The judge said McClean’s crime was aggravated by his involvement in a similar type of conspiracy to murder another man in September 2019.
In this instance, the court found that a man had been murdered and McClean had engaged in an act to facilitate it therefore bearing a very high responsibility and causing utter devastation to the deceased’s family.
Whilst McClean did not fire the shots, the judge said he was essential and intricate to the shooting taking place. “The evidence established that he gave a cue to the shooter when to strike and was very close and highly involved in the setting up of the deceased for assassination,” he continued.
The court found that the appropriate headline sentence for McClean was 15 years. In mitigation, the judge took into account his guilty plea. Whilst the defendant had expressed his regret and remorse, the judge said there was a clear indifference from McClean as to what might have happened to the targeted victim and that the court had some difficulty accepting his regret.
McClean was sentenced to ten years in prison and the judge said he had to consider whether this was to run concurrently or consecutively to the eight-year sentence he is presently serving for conspiracy to commit murder. The judge said this was the second offence committed by the defendant where the purpose was to kill, that it was a completely separate offence and that the defendant had embarked upon it within a short time of the other offence.
He added: “It would be a failure on the court’s part to run this sentence into the other sentence and would not be a fair and proportionate sentence”. The judge said McClean had engaged in two very serious crimes and must pay a penalty for both so the sentence for facilitation would run consecutively to his offence for conspiracy to commit murder.
In cumulative terms, the judge said McClean would now serve 18 years imprisonment and he was satisfied that the combined sentence of 18 years reflected the callousness of both offences. However, he said he would suspend the last 18 months of the ten-year sentence handed down today for a period of three years.
In summary, Mr Justice McDermott told the McCarthy family that there was nothing he could do to improve their situation but to express his condolences.
At a sentencing hearing for the two defendants on April 17, the victim’s mother Pauline McCarthy described her 55-year-old son as “the kindest, most generous person” who had a “heart of gold”.
Ms McCarthy said in her victim impact statement that her son had jumped up to open the door to what he thought was the postman and told how she will never forget the look in her son’s “beautiful piercing blue eyes” as he turned to look at her after he had been shot.
Ms McCarthy told how she relives the day “over and over” and said she had been living in “complete hell” since the day Thomas was killed in “the place he loved” and the “place he should have been safe”.
She relayed how Mr McCarthy had spent the previous weeks in Dublin visiting family and was due to go back to his home in England that evening. She said July 27 was the day that would “rip our hearts out” and change their families’ lives forever.
“He’s the last thing I think of before I go to sleep and the first thing I think of when I wake up,” she said. “Thomas was the apple of my eye and I have an emptiness inside me which can never be reversed.”
In another victim impact statement read to the court, Mr McCarthy’s partner Mia O’Reilly said her family’s world had been “destroyed” and “changed forever” on the day he died.
She said prior to the shooting she had been optimistic for the future but now she suffers from panic attacks and can’t sleep at night.
Ms O’Reilly told the court she faces an uncertain financial future as she and Mr McCarthy had not been married. She said she and her children had “dreaded” returning home to the “family nest” in England without Mr McCarthy and said her partner is constantly in her thoughts.
She said she now faces “a future full of sadness” and questions “why did this happen”.
“I still to this day think they had the wrong person. The wrong house. Thomas was a good person.”
Mr McCarthy’s niece, Danielle McCarthy, said her uncle had been a “father figure” to her growing up and said the morning of July 27, 2020 was the first time she “felt true heartache” as she kneeled on her grandmother’s floor holding Thomas’s hand telling him it would be okay, that the ambulance was coming.
The court heard the deceased man had lived in England for many years but returned home regularly to visit family and had been home for three weeks when he was gunned down after opening the front door of his family’s home in Ballyfermot.
Detective Sergeant Ronan McDermott told Bernard Condon SC, for the DPP, that Mr McCarthy was a resident of the UK but was staying at the family home at the time the incident occurred.
He said on the morning of the shooting, Mr McCarthy had brought his brother to a hospital appointment and the two men had only been home for a few minutes when a man was seen walking up the driveway.
The court heard that Mr McCarthy’s brother said “don’t open the door” but Mr McCarthy went out to answer it and was shot a number of times in the upper torso, head and arms.
Shortly before he was shot, a man was seen getting out of the driver side of a blue Ford Fiesta car and following the shooting he was seen getting back into the car and it then drove away.
The court heard this car was subsequently driven to another location where it was set alight and the man, referred to in court as Mr A, then got into a silver Skoda Octavia which had been parked up waiting.
That car then drove away and was seen on CCTV in Clondalkin.
Det Sgt McDermott confirmed people living in the area could see a person running away from that car and it was also set on fire. The person was then seen getting in a black Toyota Avensis driven by someone else which made its way to Castlegate Walk in Adamstown.
Det Sgt McDermott said a black Mercedes jeep was then seen driving from Castlegate Walk to the home of Mr McClean where it remained for a few minutes before Mr A came out and got into the passenger side of the vehicle wearing a distinctive red jumper. CCTV footage showed him back at work wearing the jumper which he had not been wearing when he arrived for work that morning.
The court was told the Mercedes jeep was linked to Charles McClean and a silver Audi A4, registered to Mark Lee, was observed in convoy with the blue Fiesta the night before the murder when the Fiesta was moved “into situ” in Ballyfermot.
Det Sgt McDermott confirmed to Mr Condon that the silver Audi picked up the driver of the Ford Fiesta and then left the area.
He confirmed to counsel that a post mortem carried out identified nine separate gunshot injuries sustained by Mr McCarthy which were all in the back of the body except for one.
The detective sergeant agreed with Mr Condon that Mr McCarthy wasn’t known for any criminality of any nature and there was “no explanation” for what happened.
The court heard the deceased had been with his partner, Mia O’Reilly, for 31 years. They had two children together and Mr McCarthy also had three other children.
A gun was found in the burned out Ford Fiesta and forensic experts were able to determine it was a 9mm calibre which was consistent with the bullets found at the scene.
A number of the vehicles used in the shooting had been bought on Done Deal and registered with false details, the court heard.
The black Mercedes jeep was registered to McClean’s partner and Mark Lee had been the registered owner of the Skoda Octavia before he sold it or traded it in on August 3, 2020 the court was told .
Michael Bowman SC, for McClean, said his client had entered a plea in advance of the anticipated trial date and asked the court to take this into consideration.
Counsel for Lee, Patrick McGrath SC, also asked the court to take into account the fact that his client had entered a plea of guilty at an early stage.
He said his client’s involvement had been in the logistical planning and he had not been at the scene on the day of the shooting.
He put it to Det Sgt McDermott that while Lee “may not be at the bottom of the organisation” he would be lower down, towards the bottom. The detective sergeant agreed this was the case.
Mr McGrath told the court his client wished to offer his apologies to the court and to the deceased man’s family.
He said his client had had considerable health difficulties since 2019 and asked the court to allow Lee to remain on bail until sentence was passed, which was agreed to.