Garda killer 'did not know' he must spend 40 years in jail


A MAN who has served 26 years in prison for the murder of a Garda sergeant has denied suggestions by the State he always knew he would not be entitled to remission and would not be freed until he had served 40 years.

Noel Callan (48) told the High Court yesterday it was never his understanding he would not be entitled to 25 per cent remission on his sentence for good behaviour, as other prisoners are.

He was being cross-examined on the second day of his action challenging the State’s refusal to consider him for remission of the 40-year sentence imposed in 1986 for his role in the murder of Sgt Patrick Morrissey following an armed robbery at Ardee labour exchange on June 27th, 1985.

He claims his rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights have been breached by the way in which the death sentence originally imposed on him was commuted to 40 years’ penal servitude by then president Patrick Hillery, acting on the advice of the government.

The sentence was imposed without regard to his level of culpability for the offences and his prospects for rehabilitation, and in circumstances where there was no right to be considered for parole, early release, or review, he claims.

The court has been told Sgt Morrissey, whose widow Bernadette is attending the hearing, was “effectively executed” by Callan’s co-accused, Michael McHugh from Crossmaglen, as the officer lay injured on the ground after giving chase to the robbers.

Callan and McHugh, who is also in prison and has never appealed his conviction, both had death sentences commuted to 40 years.

Callan yesterday agreed with Paul O’Higgins, for the State, that he and McHugh had three guns – including a sawn-off shotgun – between them during the robbery.

He agreed the then chief justice, when delivering the Court of Criminal Appeal’s decision in 1986 dismissing Callan’s appeal against his murder conviction, had said Callan was prepared to “shoot his way out of trouble” during the robbery, irrespective of whether that involved civilians or gardaí.

He said he was not aware, when his sentence had been commuted, the then government had “reached an understanding” he would serve a minimum of 40 years. He disagreed with counsel’s suggestion he “always knew” his release date would be 2025/26.

It was not until 2006, following a freedom of information request, he was provided with documents relating to the government decision to commute the sentence, he said. While the order he received in relation to the commutation of his sentence stated 40 years was to be served, it did not say it was 40 years without remission, he said.

Callan told the court earlier that others convicted of capital murders and given similar 40-year sentences had gained permanent release under the Belfast Agreement. These were Tommy Eccles, Brian McShane and Patrick McPhillips, sentenced to 40 years for the murder of Garda Frank Hand in 1985 and released in 1998.

Yesterday, Mark Kavanagh, head of 30 teachers working in Portlaoise Prison, told the court Callan had engaged extensively in education in prison. Legal submissions have begun and Mr Justice Michael Hanna has indicated he will reserve judgment.