An Inishowen man, who subjected his girlfriend to an “extremely violent” assault and imprisoned her while brandishing a knife and hammer, has been jailed.
Brian McLaughlin, (23), was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment suspended for two and a half years at Letterkenny Circuit Court after previously pleading guilty to assault causing harm and the false imprisonment of Shauna McLaughlin at their home in St Oran’s Road, Buncrana on 28th October, 2013.
The court heard that McLaughlin would not let Ms McLaughlin leave the house, or Gardai enter, telling them he would “knife them” if they attempted to do so.
It became a ‘hostage-type situation’ and a curfew around the house had to be extended as friends attended the scene.
The incident arose after the two, who lived together, had been on a night out to celebrate Ms McLaughlin’s birthday.
McLaughlin left for home in “a temper” after they had an argument and his girlfriend followed him home.
In her statement to Gardai, Ms McLaughlin, who is now working in England, said McLaughlin punched her in the face and she fell on the bed before he began to strangle her. He was on top of her and she was unable to speak.
“I thought he was going to kill me,” she said.
Ms McLaughlin began to claw at his face and he released his grip from around her neck, before he grabbed her arm behind her back, forcing it upwards in an arm lock. He pushed her head into blankets and she found it “difficult to breathe.”
Ms McLaughlin said she woke up in the sitting room and McLaughlin was standing over her, shouting: “Please wake up.” She said she didn’t know how she got there and thought she may have been knocked unconscious. McLaughlin was crying and had a 10-inch kitchen knife in his hand. He later sat on the bottom of a bed, sharpening the knife and was also “waving a hammer about.”
Ms McLaughlin hid the knife but McLaughlin retrieved two others from the kitchen.
Buncrana Sergeant Carol Doherty said Gardai, including Sergeant Egan, a trained negotiator and Gda Robin Hennigan, who knew him, attempted to speak with McLaughlin and tried to calm him down. He calmed down after speaking with his father on the phone, who urged him to take medication.
He released Ms McLaughlin from the house, through a back door, at 4.10am and Gardai entered it at 4.40am, detaining him under the Mental Health Act.
A medical report from a doctor who later examined Ms McLaughlin stated she had severe soft tissue trauma over her entire body, evidence of strangulation, an “extremely tender” right shoulder and was in severe physical discomfort and extreme pain. She was covered in McLaughlin’s blood as he had cut himself with the knife and also had blood around her mouth and gums.
The accused was taken to the psychiatric unit at Letterkenny Hospital and was examined by a doctor, who deemed him not unwell enough to be admitted.
He was taken to Buncrana Garda Station and examined by a NowDoc doctor, who initially certified him unfit for interview due to his level of intoxication.
When he was interviewed, McLaughlin told Gardai he had been drinking since 6pm and said he “blacked out” in the pub.
He added that Ms McLaughlin was “going psycho” and that he wasn’t planning on using the knife, which was “just for show.”
“I’m not that type of person,” he said.
McLaughlin added that he wouldn’t let his girlfriend leave as he “needed time to think.”
“She was aggravating me - she made me do this,” he said.
He added: “I’m sorry, I just wanted to calm her down.”
McLaughlin has a number of previous convictions, including intoxication in a public place, no insurance, failing to appear in court, damaging property and dangerous driving. He is currently serving an eight month prison sentence for failing to complete community service and was due for release next week.
Defence barrister Damien Crawford said McLaughlin and a friend had drank half a bottle of scotch before they went to a pub up the town.
He said when his client returned home he was “distressed and disorientated” and had taken a regime of medication combined with alcohol.
Mr Crawford said Ms McLaughlin had shown “great courage and calm” and tried to calm McLaughlin, who wasn’t wearing any clothes on his upper body.
Mr Crawford asked Sgt Doherty if she accepted McLaughlin’s answers under interview were “somewhat bizarre.”
Sgt Doherty replied:”I don’t know if he thought it was as serious as it was and that he had put Shauna in so much fear.”
He referred to McLaughlin’s response to Gardai when they asked him about holding a TV over his head, to which he replied: “I wasn’t going to throw it. I need that to play Grand Theft Auto.”
“He doesn’t appear to be fully ‘compos mentus,’ said Mr Crawford.
Mr Crawford said McLaughlin came from a large family and had been taken into care at a young age. He was now the primary carer for his mother, who had “significant medical issues.”
Mr Crawford said McLaughlin told Gardai he had “lost” his mind and “wasn’t intending to harm,” Ms McLaughlin.
He wrote a letter to the court which was also handed in to Judge Francis Comerford.
Mr Crawford said his client was “deeply ashamed and has been trying to unravel what happened in his mind.”
Pointing out how McLaughlin was on three different medications for mental health issues, Mr Crawford said the incident was “more of a mental health episode than a criminal assault, not taking away or diminishing what occurred to Ms McLaughlin,”
Judge Comerford described the incident as “extremely violent” adding the outcome could have been “far,far worse.”
He also praised Gardai on the night for “showing remarkable professionalism and skill in managing the situation.”
Judge Comerford said McLaughlin had completed a number of workshops while in prison and it “does stand to him that he applied himself to some measure of rehabilitation.” He said that in the letter written, McLaughlin accepted he needed help and wanted to be a better father, but did not show “any great insight” into the effect his actions had on Ms McLaughlin.
He sentenced McLaughlin to three years on each count, to run concurrently, with the last two and a half years suspended on a bond to be of good behaviour, to not to have any convictions in that time and to comply with all directions of medical advisors. The remaining six month sentence will commence when the eight month sentence expires next week.