Belfast Telegraph

Man who stole car with two children inside at Belfast retail park to be sentenced for 'terrible' incident

By Ashleigh McDonald

A man who stole a car with two children on board at a busy Belfast retail park was told on Friday that he will be sentenced for the "terrible" incident next week.

Belfast Crown Court heard that as the car thief was in the process of stealing the vehicle, the owner - and the mother of the children inside - was assaulted and dragged along the road as she tried to stop it being taken.

Martin McDonagh was drunk and had taken a concoction of drugs before he got into the Vauxhall Golf which was sitting outside Sports Direct at the Boucher Retail Park.

He later claimed he thought the car was his sister's, and he took it as he believed she had been driving round Belfast whilst drunk.

McDonagh (36) from Ardmoulin Terrace in Belfast will be sentenced next week on a total of nine offences arising from the incident, which occurred around 5.30pm on Saturday February 25.

The charges include two counts of child abduction as well as dangerous driving, and driving whilst unfit.

A prosecuting barrister said the vehicle's owner parked her car outside the sports store, and left the key in the ignition and the engine running. Her ten-year old daughter was in the front seat, while her year-and-a-half old son was in the back.

As she was walking out of the store, she saw McDonagh getting into her car and reversing the vehicle. She ran to the car, grabbed McDonagh's arm and tried to get him, but she was pushed to the ground by McDonagh and was then dragged a short distance as the car was being driven away.

The incident was witnessed by a number of people, one of whom ran after the departing Golf. He was able to catch up with the car, open the driver's door and grab the keys from the ignition.

McDonagh took a swing at and missed the man. He did however grab the man by the throat - in full view of the ten-year old front seat passenger. McDonagh then fled the scene but was apprehended a short distance away at a car dealership's.

When apprehended, McDonagh smelt of drink and failed to provide a specimen of breath. He was also "aggressive and abusive" towards officers.

During interview, while he placed himself at the scene McDonagh initially denied involvement. He said he had consumed alcohol along with heroin, cannabis, valium and cocaine, and also claimed he believed the car was his sister's and she had been drink driving in Belfast.

McDonagh - who appeared in court with 32 previous convictions - later admitted all nine charges.

Regarding the victims, the prosecutor said the ten-year old provided a "very vivid account of her experience, including seeing her mum being assaulted then dragged along the road. She also witnessed the man being assaulted, and the arrest of the accused."

The prosecutor also told Judge Patricia Smyth the child abduction was "relatively short ... it lasted for a brief period."

Defence barrister Seamus Lannon praised the "commendably courageous" bravery displayed by the mother as she tried to stop McDonagh driving her car away with her children inside.

Saying he acknowledged the seriousness of the offence, and paying tribute to the maturity displayed by the ten-year old passenger, Mr Lannon said the incident was "spur of the moment behaviour" by a man who was heavily under the influence of both drink and drugs.

Mr Lannon said: "He accepts it was idiotic and he is embarrassed and is deeply remorseful about the effect this behaviour has had on the children, and on the mother who was emotionally distressed and physically hurt."

The defence barrister told the court his client has the mental age of a nine or ten year old, has an IQ score of 45, and has "very little education and very little knowledge of what goes on in the world."

Mr Lannon also revealed McDonagh can barely read and write, began abusing drink and drugs in his early teens, and "has never had any structure in his life.

After listening to all submissions, Judge Patricia Smyth said: "This is a complex case, and it is a terrible case."

Saying she needed time to reflect, the Judge told McDonagh she will pass sentence next week.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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