A four day trial ended in a guilty verdict at the Circuit Court for a man accused of hijacking a car and taking its frightened owner on a high speed chase with gardaí through the city.
John Conroy (23), with an address at Lakeview, Donaghpatrick in Headford, was convicted of 15 charges including the unlawful seizure of a vehicle, reckless endangerment, and 13 counts of dangerous driving at the Circuit Court.
The court heard that on the evening May 31 of 2016, John Conroy, also known as JJ, and two other men had Thomas Ackroyd (27) drive them to a back road south of Tuam where they assaulted him and forced him into the back seat of his car.
They then drove into Galway city where a high speed chase with two Garda patrol cars started in Salthill and carried on the length of the city, ending in a ditch in Corrundulla.
When called to the stand Thomas Ackroyd, who works with a valeting company in Ballinrobe, said that he couldn’t remember anything from that day after leaving work.
The State’s prosecutor Ms. Silke presented Mr. Ackroyd with two statements about the hijacking he gave to Sgt. Emma Kerin who was leading the investigation. One statement was from June 7, a week after the incident, and the second was from June 17.
Mr. Ackroyd said that he recognised his address and signature on them. But, when asked how well he remembers giving those statements he said he could only recall about two percent.
He also said that at the time of the first interview he was still under the influence of morphine from outpatient treatment he received at UHG the day before.
The prosecution asked for those statements to be entered into evidence since Mr. Ackroyd couldn’t properly testify as to what happened himself. The defence objected on the grounds that they wouldn’t be able to challenge Mr. Ackroyd’s statements because he was just going to say he didn’t remember.
Judge Eoin Garavan decided that the two statements given to gardaí in 2016 should be admitted in place of testimony from Mr. Ackroyd.
Mr. Ackroyd’s statements were read out to the court by Sgt. Kerin from Tuam garda station who was first on the scene of the crash at the end of the chase.
On the night of the incident Thomas Ackroyd was in his car in the Cornmarket area of Ballinrobe after work when the accused man, John Conroy, and another man named Michael Sweeney got into his car. He said they told him to take them to Galway city, and when he refused they told him to take them to Tuam.
“I felt like I had no other option,” he said, “Their attitude was changing. They were no longer asking me to take them, they were telling.”
According to Mr. Ackroyd’s statement on the way there they told him to pick up T.J Sweeney, and then drove out to a dirt road near Tuam.
There, Mr. Ackroyd said Conroy headbutted him, then T.J Sweeney dragged him out of the car and threw him into the back seat while Conroy took over driving.
“I hadn’t a notion of resisting what they were doing to me, as I really thought I was going to be stabbed.” Mr Ackroyd said.
On the way into Galway city Mr. Ackroyd says the group stopped at Joyce’s to get cider and all three of them were drinking Bulmers. The prosecution noted that empty cider cans were found in the car.
High speed chase through Galway city
Garda Denise O’Halloran from Salthill Garda station told the court that at 11pm that night she was on patrol on the Upper Ballymoneen rd. when a black Volkswagon came speeding over the crest of a hill on the wrong side of the road and she was forced to swerve the patrol car to avoid a head on collision.
The car continued on towards the Western Distributor rd. at roughly 100kmph and the Garda pursued them. Garda O’Halloran said that the black Volkswagon was driving extremely dangerously, weaving in and out of traffic and blowing through red lights from the Western Distributor rd. to the Quincentenary Bridge.
Gardaí said that the Volkswagon crossed to the wrong side of the Quincentenary bridge and drove along it against traffic, forcing cars to swerve out of its way.
At the junction by Galway Shopping Centre a second Garda car, driven by Garda Nigel Silke of Mill st Garda station, joined the chase now heading out the Headford rd.
Garda Silke’s partner, Garda Ronan Leonard said that he at the junction he saw the driver of the Volkswagon wearing a blue t-shirt. A blue t-shirt was found at the scene, the prosecution said. And the first gardaí on the scene of the crash found Conroy topless in the street.
The state made a particular point of how the car drove onto the Browne and Kirwan roundabouts at high speed, forcing other cars to brake hard or else risk crashing.
The chase continued out the Headford rd, straight through the Kirwan roundabout and out Curraghline, where gardaí said Conroy was doing in excess of 160kmph.
Mr. Ackroyd said that Conroy yelling, “Drive it like you stole it.” while they were being chased.
Gardaí decided to call off the pursuit at Clonboo because it was becoming too dangerous, according to garda O’Halloran. The defence argued that garda O’Halloran was making it sound like it was rush hour on the roads, but this actually took place late at night.
Mr. Ackroyd said that after losing the gardaí at Clonboo the car took a corner at around 80km an hour, hitting into a wall and a ditch before ending up on its side. He said he had climb out of the back window, and could immediately tell there was something wrong with his arm.
Sgt. Kerin and other Gardaí were soon on the scene, including the two patrol units who’d chased the Volkswagon through city, along with emergency services.
Mr. Ackroyd was the most seriously injured of the four men, suffering a compound fracture to his his arm that left the bone exposed, and with a small injury to his forehead which prosecutors attributed to Conroy’s headbutt.
In his statement he said that before the gardaí arrived the other were warning him not to say anything, and that he only really felt safe when he was in the ambulance.
DNA evidence was taken from blood stains in the back of the car and sent to them to be analysed, a sample taken from the back passenger side seat matched a DNA sample taken from Mr. Ackroyd.
In its closing argument, the defence said that there was no evidence placing Conroy in the driver’s seat of the car other than Mr. Ackroyd’s statements, who said he couldn’t remember anything from that night, and suggested that Mr. Ackroyd had a vested interest in placing someone else in the driver’s seat other than himself.
The Prosecution said that while Mr. Ackroyd hadn’t given evidence in court, his statements were detailed accounts of what happened that match up with what physical evidence was recovered.
After a two hour deliberation, the jury returned with a guilty verdict for Mr. Conroy on all counts. The court adjourned the case to July 20 for sentencing.