A 22-year-old single mother collapsed crying into the arms of her mother after she was given a suspended jail sentence for throwing a handgun into the River Foyle.
Caoimhe Villa, from Earhart Park in Londonderry, pleaded guilty yesterday at the city’s Crown Court to perverting the course of justice by disposing of the weapon, which was potential evidence in a criminal investigation, on January 27 of last year.
A prosecution barrister told Judge Philip Babington that on the afternoon of January 26 a member of the public dialled 999 after seeing two men exchanging what he believed was a silver-coloured handgun with a four-inch long barrel near the Bank of Ireland cash machine at Spencer Road.
The police viewed CCTV images from the scene and identified two men, one of whom was questioned.
They found a mobile phone text message on his person which he had sent to Villa. It stated that he'd left something in Villa's flat the previous night and asked her to put it in the attic for him to collect at a later date.
The following day the police, on foot of a search warrant, called at Villa's flat and told her they were going to carry out a search of her home.
However, she immediately told the police she had found the gun under a chair the previous day.
Concerned about the safety of her five-year-old boy, she wrapped the handgun up in two plastic bags and walked to the bank of the River Foyle under the Foyle Bridge where she threw the handgun into the river.
The prosecutor said the police searched the river but were unable to find the handgun. The defendant was arrested and made full admissions.
“She told the police she wanted to get the gun away from everyone, especially from her son. The police accept in full what she told them,” the barrister said.
Defence barrister Ivor McAteer said Villa panicked after she found the weapon in her home and she believed that her actions in disposing of it were in the best interests of her son.
“She is a 22-year-old old mother who is totally and absolutely devoted to the care of her son. Her first instinct was to protect her son.
“She is a feisty, hardworking and devoted mother who has had a troubled background but who has got her life in order in terms of her devotion to her son and in terms of a good employment record”, he said.
Imposing a six-month jail sentence, suspended for two years, Judge Babington said when Villa was first visited by the police she said, “Yes, I have thrown the gun in the Foyle”.
He said that her former friend who had left the weapon in her flat “showed little care for her, her son and for anyone else in the flat”.
Judge Babington said it was clear Villa had “freaked out because she did not want her child to find the gun”.
He said that a pre-sentence report stated that Villa has been the victim of serious domestic violence on numerous occasions.
“Despite this she has been able to find employment and has tried to better herself,” he said.
“All offences connected to firearms in this city are very serious. She acted wrongly in doing what she did, but perhaps this court can understand what she did as she had a young child in the house.”