Criminal jailed over violent attack on man found stripped and beaten in bathtub
A Drogheda criminal has been jailed in relation to a violent incident which saw a man rescued by heavily armed gardaí after he was found stripped and badly beaten in a bathtub.
Dean Thornton (23) was sentenced to three-years imprisonment after pleading guilty to assault causing harm to Aaron Rochford in the Moneymore estate, Drogheda, on November 11, 2018.
Dublin Circuit Court heard that the incident was connected to the feuding in Louth town which has caused heightened tensions and led to a Garda policing plan in the area.
The feud has led to around 100 violent incidents including four murders, assaults and dozens of fire bombings.
Prosecutor Garnet Orange SC led investigating officer Det Supt John O’Flaherty through the background of the abduction of Mr Rochford, who passed away in unrelated circumstances in 2019.
He said the crime was in the context of gardaí policing the Moneymore estate as part of the ongoing dispute.
The court heard there were several incidents that night including the abduction of Aaron Rochford, as well as a car filled with gas canisters being driven into a boxing club in the estate and set alight.
Det Supt O’Flaherty said that this incident was connected to Mr Rochford but that he was abducted before the vehicle was set on fire.
Shortly before 9pm that night, gardaí received a 999 call saying several people had abducted a man and that they were outside the home of Thornton. A short time later, a separate emergency call was received about the burning car at the boxing club.
At around 9.31pm, another anonymous 999 call was made stating that Mr Rochford had been moved from the house he was into an adjoining property and that there were serious concerns for his safety.
Gardaí arrived at the scene and one officer noticed Thornton attempting to escape out of a backroom window but was trapped.
Members of the Armed Support Unit (ASU) then stormed the house where Mr Rochford was being held and found him stripped and bloodied in an upstairs bathtub. The court heard he was in a state of shock, with slash wounds to his head and upper body, and that he was “appreciative of the efforts made by gardaí” because of the genuine concerns for his safety.
Mr Rochford was brought to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and gardaí sealed off the house next door where the perpetrators were hiding.
The court heard that a number of men, including Thornton, came out a short time later with their hands up and were arrested.
Mr Orange said armed gardaí entered the house and recovered Thornton’s tracksuit bottoms from a washing machine which were stained with blood. It was later confirmed that the blood was Mr Rochford’s.
Weapons including knives and a crossbow were found during the search of the house.
A damaged CCTV harddrive was also discovered submerged in a bucket of water and when analysed, showed a number of significant movements between the two houses that night.
Det Supt O’Flaherty said it showed the victim being forcibly removed from a Volkswagen car outside by the group before being forcibly punched in the head by Thornton.
It also showed Thornton moving between the two homes using the back wall, with Det Supt O’Flaherty saying he appeared to be taking instructions.
During his Garda interviews, he relied on his right to silence and didn’t make any admissions. The court heard one of his co-accused is facing trial next year while there are bench warrants out for two other men.
In his statements Mr Rochford described being abducted that night but claimed he didn’t know any of the people involved or the property concerned.
In a victim impact statement, the his grandmother Mary Rochford described him as a “loveable rogue” and recalled visiting him in hospital that night.
“When I saw Aaron, I think my heart stopped beating. I was so upset at what he looked like. All I saw was bruises, cuts and blood. He could barely talk,” Ms Rochford said.
She added that the family feared further attacks from the group who abducted her grandson and that he went “off the rails on drugs” in the aftermath of the crime.
The court heard Thornton, with different addresses in Drogheda, has previous convictions for drugs possession, abusive behaviour, obstruction, and road traffic offences.
His defence barrister Seamus Clarke SC said that his client’s guilty plea, in circumstances where the complainant was deceased, was of assistance to the court.
He also said his client wasn’t the ringleader in the incident, that he has spent his time in custody taking courses and that he has written a letter of apology to the victim’s family.
Judge Martin Nolan said there was CCTV evidence showing him assault Mr Rochford and the victim’s bloodstains on his trousers linked him to other forms of assault on the complainant.
The injuries sustained in what the judge said was a “rather nasty serious assault” included a broken jaw and multiple cuts to the body.
“Mob rule and mob law have no place in Drogheda, or in any other place,” Judge Nolan said.
He said the assault was on the higher end of the five-year maximum sentence for assault causing harm.
Judge Nolan sentenced Thornton to three years imprisonment.