Suspended sentence for throwing gun into river

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A woman who threw a handgun, which was part of a police investigation, into the river Foyle has received a suspended jail term.

Caoimhe Villa, of Earhart Park, pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice on January 27, last year.

Derry Crown Court heard that police received an emergency call from a witness who saw two males on the Spencer Road exchanging what appeared to be a silver handgun.

They began an investigation into the matter and arrested an unnamed man who they identified on CCTV.

During their investigation officers examined the man’s phone and found a text message to Villa stating he had “forgot that other thing under your chair. Gone stick it up in the attic”.

The court heard police went to the 22-year-old’s home with a search warrant and she immediately told them she had thrown the gun in the river.

She told police that after she received the message from the man she went to look for the gun. Villa said she lifted it from under the chair with her sleeves covering her hands because she did not want to touch it.

She then placed the gun in two plastic bags and took her three-year-old son with her when she went to throw it in the river.

The 22-year-old also told officers she was afraid her son might find the gun.

It was revealed to the court that Villa took police to the spot when she threw the gun into the Foyle but searches for the firearm were unsuccessful.

The prosecution told the court that police accept Villa’s version of events.

Defence counsel Ivor McAteer said as soon as the 22-year-old found out about the presence of the gun in her home she should have gone to police.

However, he told the court she did not do this because she “wanted to protect her son” who she is “absolutely devoted to”.

The barrister revealed that Villa has had a “troubled existence” and has been the victim of “significant domestic violence” in the past.

Mr McAteer said Villa’s first instinct when she found the gun was to protect her son “rather than do anything else” including reporting it to police.

The barrister said that since this incident the 22-year-old has “cut off all contact with trouble makers in her life” and has acted responsibly in the way she has dealt with the charge.

Mr McAteer said that Villa is “not much more than a child herself” and urged the court not to impose an immediate custodial sentence.

Passing sentence, Judge Philip Babington said that the person who left the gun at Villa’s home “cared little for her or anyone else in her flat”.

The judge accepted that the 22-year-old “tends to get mixed up with the wrong people” and they “take advantage” of her.

However, he said Villa has tried to better herself in the past and he hoped this case “brought the fact home to her” that she had been mixing with the wrong people.

Judge Babington added: “All offences connected with firearms in this city are very serious. The defendant did act wrongly by doing what she did. But perhaps this court can understand what she did. She had a young child in the house”.

The judge suspended a six month jail term for two years and warned Villa if she appeared before the court again in future this sentence was likely to be activated.