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Tourists bashed in Westport

Tourists bashed in Westport

> Calls for CCTV intensify after unprovoked attack
> Three brothers  remain in custody

Neill O’Neill

THREE brothers remain in custody in Castlerea prison after being refused bail following a series of incidents in Westport on Saturday night. A couple visiting the town from Northern Ireland required hospitalisation after a man suffered a serious laceration to his head following an unprovoked attack with an object, thought to be a bottle, on Castlebar Street on Saturday night. The assault also left the woman in need of medical treatment and the incident has left members of the local community shocked, angry and calling for action.
It was confirmed at a special sitting of the local district court, convened at 2.30pm in Castlebar courthouse last Sunday, that the three brothers; Stephen Collins, Joseph Collins and Tom Collins, all members of the travelling community and with addresses given in court of no fixed abode, were staying with their uncle John Pat Collins at St Mary’s Villas in the town for a number of days.
Ironically, their uncle lives in a house provided for him by Westport Town Council, and he was served with a notice to quit the accommodation in mid-November by the local authority for alleged repeated breaches of his tenancy rules. The Mayo News has learnt that John Pat Collins is refusing to leave the house and is planning on contesting the move to relocate him, meaning that Westport Town Council must now obtain an eviction order from a district court judge before Mr Collins can be forcibly removed from his home.
It is known locally, and by Gardaí, that John Pat Collins’ nephews stay with him on a regular basis, and in the past arrests have been made at his address, on people residing temporarily with him, who were suspected of committing crimes in the Westport area.

Gardaí in Westport are currently investigating other incidents which took place in the town in the latter half of last week. During one of these incidents a member of security staff at a well-known Westport pub also required hospitalisation when he was left with a serious facial injury after he was struck with a bottle around 9.30pm on Friday night, in what is thought to have been a premeditated attack.
On Thursday night, January 2, there was an altercation near the pub where the victim of Friday’s assault is employed. It is understood that security staff from the pub aided Gardaí in their attempts to make arrests following the incident on Thursday and one line of investigation is that the attack on Friday night is directly linked to this as some kind of retribution for helping the Gardaí. The callous nature of the attack, where up to six men approached the victim, is illustrated by the fact that he was viciously assaulted without warning, despite the fact that he was not even working when the incident occurred the previous night.
The Mayo News also spoke to another tourist, who was visiting Westport last week with some friends, and was ‘caught in the crossfire’ when the aforementioned altercation erupted on Thursday night. He was left nursing a cut to his cheek and a bruised, bloody and swollen mouth after being assaulted for what he described as ‘being in the wrong place at the wrong time’.

On Sunday, each of the three accused of assaulting the tourists on Saturday appeared handcuffed in court, dressed identically, with matching t-shirts, track suit bottoms tucked inside white socks and black shoes. When asked by Judge Mary Devins why this was so, the court was told that the clothes each of the three accused had been wearing had been seized for forensic analysis and Gardaí had to buy them new attire. Each of the three appeared on two public order charges and on one section two assault charge, after they were arrested by Garda Niall O’Malley between 12.30am and 12.37am on Castlebar Street in Westport on Sunday morning, January 6. In response to the assault charge, Stephen Collins replied: ‘I did not hit him’ but no other response to any of the charges was noted from any of the defendants. It can be revealed that the three accused challenged Gardaí while an attempt was being made to arrest them, and that officers had to use pepper spray to subdue the three brothers before they could be arrested.
Defending solicitor James Ward applied for bail for his three clients, contending that the charges were not serious enough to warrant custody. He supplied the court with a different address in Dublin for each of the accused, and said they were willing to return to the capital that afternoon and ‘not visit Mayo again save to attend court.’
Prosecuting, Superintendent Pat Diskin vigorously opposed this, and revealed to the court that all three accused men have a history of not showing up for court appearances. He then informed Judge Devins that between the three defendants, 21 bench warrants (Stephen 12, Joseph 6, Tom 3) have been issued against them by judges in the past for non-appearance by them at scheduled court hearings. He also said that all three are currently on station bail and are each due before the court again later this month, on other matters unrelated to the charges they appeared before the court on last Sunday. He raised fears about the validity of the addresses supplied by Mr Ward and said that more serious charges were being considered against all three men in relation to the incidents on Saturday night.
It was revealed that Tom Collins was also arrested in Westport on Thursday last, January 4, for a suspected public order offence, while Joseph Collins was arrested last Friday night, January 5, also for a suspected public order offence. No complaints have been made to Gardaí about any of the other incidents that occurred in Westport last week, except by the couple who were assaulted on Saturday. It is understood the male victim of this incident needed significant treatment for his head wound, but no evidence about the incident was heard on Sunday, at what was essentially a brief special court sitting, conducted in order to allow Gardaí to seek to lawfully keep the three men detained.
Judge Devins said that nobody with as many bench warrants against their name as Stephen Collins could expect bail and remanded all three in custody to appear before Harristown District Court next Friday, also noting the possibility of further charges.
In an application for free legal aid, made by James Ward, the court heard that only Stephen Collins is in receipt of state welfare benefit, as Tom is not long after being released from prison and Joseph is only 18 years of age. Judge Devins deferred making any decision on whether or not to grant free legal aid.

‘Bad for Westport’
Much has been made of Westport’s growth and development as a tourism hub over the past decade and a half, and while crowning moments like multiple successes in Tidy Towns and being named as Ireland’s Best Place to Live last year herald Westport as a jewel in the crown of Irish tourism, local people are now of the opinion that there can be no hiding from the fact that at least three tourists left Westport last weekend having had the worst type of experience possible in the town.
The community, members of the local council, volunteer organisations and business people, who have worked tirelessly and in co-operation with each other for years, are aghast with the events of last week, and there is anger that the hard work of so many, and the millions of euros invested locally in elevating Westport’s profile and enhancing the town’s status as a premium place to visit, could be jeopardised so needlessly and recklessly.
In the wake of these and other recent incidents, Cllr Christy Hyland, has said it’s time to stop delaying and get CCTV cameras on the streets of Westport.
“Cameras are the ultimate deterrent and one of the best forms of evidence in crime solving,” said the former detective garda, who was stationed in Westport for over 30 years. “They exist in most towns in Mayo, and here’s Westport, the tidiest and best town in which to live in the county, but what’s the point in having all that if locals and visitors cannot walk down our streets in relative safety and with peace of mind. What is more important here? I don’t want to hear about cameras looking unsightly in a heritage town, because that is one of the arguments against them, as for budgetary reasons, we have the money, but cameras are not a priority for some. You only have to look at what the speed camera vans have done for road safety,” he continued, “deaths are down, speeding is down, they have made our roads that bit safer. The bottom line is that cameras are needed in Westport, and I will be looking for money for them at Westport Town Council’s budget meeting this Thursday.”
However, in the 2013 Budget booklet circulated by Westport Town Council, which is to be discussed and ratified on Thursday, the amount of funding which they are proposing to give for their ‘contribution to CCTV’ in the expenditure section is €0.
A garda source has confirmed to The Mayo News that it is the opinion within the force locally that on-street CCTV is badly needed in Westport. The source added that the debate about security cameras in Westport has been ‘going around in circles for years’ and said it is high time the town council took the need for a good camera security system for Westport seriously, instead of talks of having money to ‘purchase two cameras’, which was described as ‘ridiculous’ for a town like Westport.

‘Somebody could get killed’

Westport has always been portrayed as a very safe and friendly town, and while incidents like those reported above are extremely rare, they have now created a real sense of anger in the community. On the streets of the town on Monday, one local businessman, who preferred to remain anonymous, because of what he described as ‘the circumstances of what had happened and who was accused’, said that the whole local population would be up in arms when they heard that what should have been a pleasant weekend away became a nightmare for one couple.
“It is totally unacceptable that this should happen, that a couple plan and pay to come to Westport for a good time, and it ends up like this. Lord knows what they think of the place now or what they will be telling their friends and family, and who could blame them? The reality is that it could have been me and my wife or one of my friends walking down the street, it seems random and vicious and we need to do whatever we can to ensure that Westport is a safe place to live, work and visit, that the town’s great reputation remains intact and that we do not have gangs of troublemakers roaming our streets perpetrating random attacks on innocent people. It takes years to build up the reputation of a place in the way Westport has, and it can all be undone very quickly if incidents like this are occurring.
“Someone could get killed, and if it isn’t an innocent victim, then some night these guys will pick on the wrong people and that will be the end of it all. Either outcome is bad for Westport, we have to ensure as a community that it doesn’t happen.”

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