`Chance meeting' may bring former judge's neighbours into spotlight city

Sat, May 1, 1999, 01:00

As the inquiry intensifies into why Mr Hugh O'Flaherty intervened in the Philip Sheedy drink-driving case, the spotlight is due to fall on a very private family - the Andersons, neighbours of the former Supreme Court judge.

According to Mr O'Flaherty, it was a chance meeting with Mr Ken Anderson, out walking with Sheedy's sister, which led him to take an interest in the case.

The encounter was "entirely by chance", Mr O'Flaherty told the Chief Justice. It occurred while he was walking his dog near his home in the south Dublin suburb of Donnybrook.

During the meeting, Mr O'Flaherty said, he was told about the Sheedy case. He suggested that it seemed similar to a previous case and, according to Mr Anderson, departed, leaving him with the impression that little would be done. To Mr Anderson's surprise, however, the case was relisted and within a month, in November 1998, Sheedy was released after serving only a year of his four-year sentence.

This account of events throws up a number of important questions, not least how a neighbour or family friend could provoke such a response from one of the highest-ranking judges in the State. Why did Mr O'Flaherty act so promptly and would he have done the same for any neighbour or friend?

The judge may soon be appearing before an Oireachtas committee to be questioned on these matters. Likewise, if the committee inquiry goes ahead, Mr Anderson is expected to be called. Given his attempts to avoid the media at the moment, that would, no doubt, be an unwelcome prospect.

The 29-year-old son of John and Mary Anderson lives with his parents at their three-storey home on Clyde Road, Ballsbridge in Dublin 4. The house is a short stroll from Mr O'Flaherty's Herbert Park home.

Mr Anderson's father is a successful financier, while his mother is well known in the fashion industry. She runs an up-market retail outlet, Mary Anderson, in Dawson Street.

Having started her business in the more modest surroundings of Lucan village, Mrs Anderson moved into the city centre in the mid-1980s - not long after the family moved to Clyde Road.

Mrs Anderson spends much of her time on the fashion circuit, travelling between New York, London, Paris and Milan. She is said to be energetic and good company. However, unlike her clientele, she is said to have a small social circle and have but a few close friends.

Of Ken Anderson, little is known. A graduate in architecture, like Sheedy, he appears to have known Mr Justice O'Flaherty only casually and through his parents.

Mr John Anderson told The Irish Times that none of the family wished to comment on the controversy. However, his son told the Star newspaper earlier this month that no favours had been sought from Mr O'Flaherty "and as far as I am concerned none were given. I have no clout."

Describing the meeting with the judge as accidental, Mr Anderson said he was merely looking for advice on the Sheedy case. "He said: `Leave it with me.' I was gobsmacked when the case came up for review. We all were."

A fuller explanation may yet be demanded by the Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights, members of which are drawing up a list of potential witnesses.

Fine Gael's justice spokesman, Mr Jim Higgins TD, refused to be drawn on whether Mr Anderson would be called to give evidence. However, he said "the committee should be calling more than the three people who have resigned. There are a lot of parts of the jigsaw which we will have to put together."