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Cullyhanna cousins convicted of kidnap and assault of taxi driver

Two Cullyhanna men have been found guilty of kidnapping, robbing and threatening to kill a Dundalk taxi driver almost two years ago.

Former All-Ireland winning minor footballer, Robert Tasker, and his cousin and co-accused, Antoin McCooey, both of separate addresses in St. Patrick’s Park, Cullyhanna, were convicted on Wednesday by a majority verdict on each of the four kidnap and assault charges they faced. The trial of the pair had earlier heard from victim, Paul Kelly, that Tasker had held a stanley knife to his throat and threatened to “rape and murder” him after he picked the cousins up from a Chinese restaurant in Dundalk in the early hours of 29 November 2016. 

Giving evidence on Monday last, the taxi driver told the court he was “absolutely terrified” as Tasker held the knife to his throat and he described how McCooey threatened to stab him with a flat head screwdriver during the 25-minute journey to Cullyhanna. 

Mr Kelly said the men paid for the fare of 30 euros upfront at the request of the taxi driver,  before back seat passenger, Tasker, began to speak in highly sexualised language, including “talking about having sex with a man in Dundalk”.  McCooey’s demeanour changed after the taxi driver told him he felt uncomfortable with the conversation and he told the court the men turned “pure evil”, as they demanded cash from him.  The driver handed over €120 in takings, but continued to be threatened with rape and murder by the men, who then told him to bring the car into a church car park in Cullyhanna. However, the driver stopped the car on the road and as another car passed, the two men got out and walked away.  The taxi driver said he fled and the incident was later reported to Gardai.

Both Tasker and McCooey denied all the charges against them and declined to give evidence in the trial. As the jury delivered its guilty verdict on Wednesday, Tasker – a former rising star in GAA who failed to live up to his promise – shook his head in the dock and gave a thumbs up to relatives as he was led away. His co-accused, McCooey, displayed little emotion as the verdicts were read out. 

Following the guilty verdicts, the court heard how both men had breached their bail conditions on several occasions and that Tasker was even believed to have driven close to Mr Kelly’s home the night before the taxi driver was due to give evidence. 

Judge McReynolds said there was a “very real flight risk for each defendant” and remanded the men into custody before sentencing on June 18th. 

Speaking to the Irish News after the men were convicted, Mr Kelly said a massive weight had been lifted off his shoulders and he said he was “delighted that they are in custody.”  Describing how his terrifying ordeal affected his life, the father-of-four said he was forced to give up his job as a taxi driver but he insisted he was “absolutely” glad to have pursued the case against the two men, adding that the verdicts were a “massive closure” for him as he tries to move on with his life.