Lawyer accused of 'framing' garda
A lawyer for the family of murdered RUC officer Harry Breen has been accused at the Smithwick Tribunal of attempting to “frame” a former Garda detective sergeant.
The tribunal was told Banbridge solicitor John McBurney was “travelling the highways and byways” seeking evidence with which to frame Owen Corrigan, formerly of Dundalk Garda station.
The tribunal is investigating suspicions of collusion between members of the Garda and the IRA in the 1989 murders of RUC officers Mr Breen and supt Bob Buchanan. They were shot in an ambush on the Edenappa Road in South Armagh minutes after leaving a meeting in Dundalk Garda station.
At the tribunal hearing today, Jim O’Callaghan SC for Mr Corrigan accused Mr McBurney of contacting a witness and “coaching him” to give “negative evidence”.
Mr O’Callaghan told Judge Peter Smithwick: “It is deeply regrettable that Mr McBurney is trying to get and promote evidence to frame my client”.
Earlier Mr O’Callaghan had suggested that the witness from the Northern Ireland customs service had been “coached” and encouraged by Mr McBurney to come give evidence naming his client as someone who passed information to others.
“Mr McBurney filled your mind with information that you didn’t recall," he told the customs officer - who was only identified as Witness M. "He managed to fill your mind with information that you put in your statement."
However, the witness maintained he did recall being warned Mr Corrigan was passing information to “others”.
He said he was not coached but remembered the warning. “Mr Mc Burney may have asked me but I remember it. It was a very difficulty time, but I remember it,” he said.
In response, Mr McBurney told Judge Smithwick he deeply resented the accusation that he would frame anyone. He said he had contacted many witnesses in Northern Ireland who had information that came within the tribunal's terms of reference, and encouraged them all to talk to tribunal lawyers.
In the case of Witness M, he said he had raised a number of names of members of the Garda, and the witness had selected the name of Mr Corrigan.
Mr McBurney said he had acted properly and “made no apology for it”.
Judge Smithwick told Mr O’Callaghan he felt the accusation that Mr McBurney was attempting to frame Mr Corrigan was “rather harsh” and "going too far".
The judge said Mr McBurney had assisted the tribunal and had acted “perfectly legitimately" in his view. " I don’t think he was coaching. We will leave it at that”.
Mr O’Callaghan said he stood over his claim.