GAA star garda cleared of late-night bar attack which left student unconscious

Witnesses say injured party and pal were aggressors in bar punch-up

A jury cleared Garda Leon Fox of assaulting Michael Gondek

Michael Gondek outside Mullingar Circuit Court

Garda Leon Fox

Patrick O'Connell

A respected garda has been cleared of an alleged assault while celebrating his GAA club’s 25-year-wait to win the the County Football Championship.

Drogheda-based garda Leon Fox, a full-back with Ferbane’s 2019 Offaly senior football championship winning team, walked free from Mullingar Circuit Court on Thursday after a jury accepted evidence that he had hit out in ‘self-defence’ during a row outside the Tack Room bar in Athlone.

The 30-year-old was found not guilty of charges of assault causing harm to Michael Gondek and engaging in threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour on the Dublin Road in Athlone on October 16, 2019.

Four independent witnesses also told the court the injured party on the night, student Michael Gondek, had been ‘an aggressor’ in events preceding the punch.

Mr Gondek, a student at Athlone Institute of Technology, was knocked out and suffered a fractured skull after he was punched once by Garda Fox outside the bar at approximately 1am on October 16, 2019.

In his evidence, Mr Gondek claimed words had been exchanged between himself and Gda Fox inside the bar earlier in the evening after the off-duty garda had interacted with his girlfriend Kelly Brill.

Mr Gondek said he approached Fox to advise him that Kelly was his girlfriend and ask him to ‘not put his arms around her’.


Later, Mr Gondek said he and Kelly went out to the smoking area where he described the atmosphere as being “nothing out of the ordinary until the Ferbane lads followed us outside”.

He said, after this happened, the bouncers “asked everyone in the smoking area to leave”.

Michael Gondek outside Mullingar Circuit Court

Mr Gondek said he went out onto the parking area and then further on to the road, but the mood at that stage “was very intense” and there was “a lot going on”.

Mr Gondek said it was at this stage a big fight broke out between 20 or 30 people and “that’s when I was approached by the defendant and somebody else”.

“The last thing I remember was him and his friend crossing the road and that’s obviously the last thing I remember because that’s when I got hit and I was knocked unconscious on the footpath.

“The next thing I remember was waking up the next morning and starting to get sick – I was vomiting.”

He said he called the paramedics and was taken to hospital in Ballinasloe where he was kept in for three days after being assessed as having a fractured skull.

Under cross examination, defence solicitor Mr Brian Lindsay BL put it to Mr Gondek that there were four independent witnesses who were working in the Tack Room bar that night.

He said all four had given statements to gardai stating that he and his friend Jack O’Hara were the “aggressors” on the night of the assault, while Jack O’Hara was described as ‘the main instigator’.

He identified the four as Mark Cassidy, the license holder of the Tack Room, together with staff-members Alan McManus, Ian Hyland and Ronan Larkin.

He said Mr Cassidy described Mr O’Hara and Mr Gondek as having been “aggressive and hostile towards the team member in the green top (Gda. Fox)”.

He said Mr Cassidy had told investigators: “The off-duty garda didn’t appear aggressive or hostile at all. He was standing his corner and the two lads were shouting at him, but he appeared calm – he wasn’t going for them or anything.”

Garda Leon Fox

Mr Gondek responded that it had been Jack “who was doing most of the screaming and shouting, I was with him but there was only so much I could do when Jack was like that”.

Mr Lindsay said statements of a similar nature were given by the three other independent witnesses – independent in that they knew neither Gda Fox nor Mr Gondek prior to the assault.

Gda Fox did not take the stand during the course of the three-day hearing.

However, a copy of a statement he gave at Mullingar garda station on December 17, 2019, was entered into evidence.

In it, Gda Fox told investigators he and the victorious GAA team-mates had a few drinks in Ferbane on October 15 after bringing the cup around to the schools earlier in the day.

A bus had been arranged to take the team to Athlone where they stopped at Charlie Browne’s bar before he and seven or eight of the group went on to the Tack Room.

He said, as the lights went on near the end of the night, he was approached by three males who started “jeering me and said there was going to be a fight outside because I was talking to his girlfriend”.

He told officers that he laughed and said he wouldn’t be fighting.

Gda Fox said he was standing in the outside smoking area when the three males again approached him and said “there’s going to be a fight – it’s happening.”

He said one of them made a comment about him being “a dirty guard” and that he’d a “dirty guard’s head”.

Gda Fox said he walking away thinking ‘that’s a perfect reason for me not to fight.’

Gda Fox continued that a few minutes later he saw a tussle involving a few of his friends, including a fellow off-duty officer named Kevin, out on the main road.

He said: “The reason I ran in was to keep the peace and get my friends out of trouble.

“As I approached the fight, I could see some of my friends getting boxes.”

Gda Fox said as he tried to get his friends out, he was hit on the left side of the head and then received two more punches.

He said he was then pushed and as his head was going down he swung “a single box out of fear that I was going to get hit again”.

He said he was shocked by what had occurred and immediately left before ringing the bus and asking to be picked up.

He said, as he was sitting on the bus, he could see his friends still in the tussle.

He rang them to leave and they left Athlone at 2.15am.

Asked if there was anything he wanted to add, Gda Fox replied: “I received three boxes and I swung back in self-defence. That’s all I can say.”

The jury returned unanimous verdicts of not guilty on both counts.

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