*The incident took place at Topaz in Shannon which has since been renamed Circle K. Photograph: Joe Buckley

A successful target of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), John McCormack has narrowly avoided prison for his role in an altercation described by a judge as ‘two grand-dads fighting over a baby”.

At Ennis Circuit Court, Judge Francis Comerford imposed a suspended 18 month sentence on John McCormack (50) of Purcell Park, Shannon after Mr McCormack pleaded guilty to affray and criminal damage at a Topaz service station in Shannon on March 7th 2019.

Judge Comerford stated that the case for imposing a suspended sentence on Mr McCormack was less clear cut than his co-accused Danny Harty (47) – who received a suspended 12 month prison term for affray – but that it would be an imbalance to also not suspend Mr McCormack’s sentence in full.

Judge Comerford said that Mr McCormack and Mr Harty of Inis Eagla, Shannon had met by chance when the two pulled into the forecourt of the Topaz station shortly before midday on March 7th 2019.

Judge Comerford said that this is “about two grand-dads fighting over a baby” where there was no premeditation and the incident was over very quickly.

In evidence, Det Sgt Kevin O’Hagan stated that after the two men had words before a physical altercation two took place with both ending up on the ground.

Det Sgt O’Hagan said that Mr Harty managed to break free from Mr McCormack before Mr McCormack returned to his van and produced a metal rod and then proceeded to smash the windows of Mr Harty’s Peugeot vehicle.

The Detective Sergeant stated that Mr McCormack then drove away from the service station with Mr Harty gave chase with a hurley in his hand.

Asked about the reason for the row, Det Sgt O’Hagan stated that Mr Harty’s son and Mr McCormack’s daughter were in a relationship and had a baby together.

He said that the two had split up and there were issues around access to the child and it is alleged on one attempted visit by Mr Harty’s son, it led him to being involved in a physical confrontation with Mr McCormack and he received a punch.

Det O’Hagan stated that this alleged incident was the subject of the initial verbal exchange between John McCormack and Danny Harty Snr on March 7th 2019.

Asked about Mr McCormack’s background, Det O’Hagan said that Mr McCormack has 28 previous convictions.

He said, “The most recent are going back quite a number of years and they are for minor matters. In the 1990s, Mr McCormack had quite a number of serious convictions but they are quite a long time ago”.

Det O’Hagan said that in more recent years, he has had dealings with Mr McCormack “in a different court under the Proceeds of Crime Act where he has to forfeit properties under that Act by order in the High Court”.

Counsel for Mr McCormack Des Hayes BL objected to this evidence being introduced.

He said: “They are not criminal allegations. They are prejudicial to Mr McCormack and they could taint a judge’s view of him where there are no criminal convictions in relation to CAB matters before the court. As far as I understand they are matters that are still being dealt with.”

However, counsel for the State, Lorcan Connolly BL stated that what was said was background evidence “and the court does not operate in a vacuum”.

Judge Comerford noted that Mr McCormack “has no conviction in the 2000s”.

In the three judge Court of Appeal last year, Mr McCormack failed in his bid to have a July 2020 High Court ruling that three houses in Co Clare and Limerick were bought with the proceeds of crime struck down.

As part of the Court of Appeal ruling, Mr Justice Brian Murray stated one detective sergeant told the court from confidential sources he knew Mr McCormack “to be one of the biggest suppliers of illegal drugs based in the Mid-West of Ireland and that, with others he had been responsible for the importation into Ireland of vast quantities of drugs since the late 1990s.”

In July 2020 Mr Justice Alexander Owens in the High Court said he was satisfied that Mr McCormack owns residences at Purcell Park, Shannon, and Cloontara West, both in Co Clare, and Claughan Fort in Co Limerick and that the acquisitions of the three properties were funded from the proceeds of crime.

At the circuit court Det Sgt O’Hagan said that some of Mr McCormack’s previous convictions include “quite serious charges” of aggravated burglary and demanding money with menaces.

Mr Hayes said that 14 matters relate when Mr McCormack was a juvenile and 14 offences are minor road traffic while 27 out of the 28 offences were dealt with at district court level.

Mr Hayes said that Mr McCormack’s parents are in their eighties and he cares for both parents together with his sister.

He said that Mr McCormack’s sister is the main carer of his parents but she doesn’t drive so Mr McCormack transports his parents to and from hospital visits and when they need to get out and about.

Mr Hayes said that Mr McCormack has been married for the last 15 years and he has five children and quite a number of grandchildren and in October 2020 a grandchild died of a cot death aged five weeks old.

Mr Hayes said that Mr McCormack has a progressive work history and has worked as a carpenter and qualified in carpentry and electronic assembly.

He said that Mr McCormack has no ill feelings towards Mr Harty and wishes to apologise to all the people in the forecourt that day.

He said that the March 2019 incident stems through family events and there have been no incidents since then.

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