Written 2 weeks ago by Ben Finnegan
A Birr man has been acquitted on all charges arising from his involvement in a violent melee in the centre of the town in 2017.
After a three-day trial, a jury of eight women and four men found 48-year-old Martin Ward not guilty of violent disorder, producing a large stick in the course of a fight, two counts of assault, and a breach of the peace.
Tullamore Circuit Court heard the incident on the morning of July 19, 2017 sprang from a dispute between two related families when a fostering arrangement broke down.
The breakdown of the foster care arrangement resulted in what Judge Keenan Johnson said were unsavoury statements being made on Facebook.
The jury viewed CCTV footage of people seeking refuge in the SuperValu store on Main Street, and traffic coming to a halt there, when the melee erupted in broad daylight.
Martin Ward, 10 Camcor Park, Birr, was captured on CCTV running through the store onto the street with a wooden stick, four-and-a-half feet long, which the prosecution alleged he then used to strike Ryan Hanlon and his girlfriend, Amanda Houlihan, who was six months pregnant.
The court heard Bernard Ward, a son of the accused, was stabbed in the arm by another of those involved, Ricky Hanlon, brother of Ryan.
The jury also viewed footage of Mary Ward, wife of Martin, attacking Kathleen Hutchinson, aunt of Mary and mother of the Hanlon brothers.
Mary Ward and the Hanlons had previously been convicted of offences committed in the incident.
The court was told Martin and Mary Ward, the Hanlons, Kathleen Hutchinson, and Amanda Houlihan, were all going to SuperValu that morning to collect their social welfare at the post office which is located in the supermarket.
An allegation that an American pit bull dog was set on the Wards by the other protagonists was denied.
CCTV footage showed Amanda Houlihan walking along the street with what she said was her pet Staffordshire.
In his closing argument on Wednesday, Will Fennelly, prosecuting, said Martin Ward had initially told a straight-up lie to Gardaí that he had not brought the stick, but then admitted he retrieved it from his car that day after being shown the footage recorded in SuperValu.
Defence counsel Gerard Groarke sought an acquittal on the ground of self defence because Ward’s son had been stabbed, because the Hanlons had a knife and an adapted slingshot with two blades, and because he was lawfully protecting his family.