Breifne O’Brien asks court to block trial

Claims adverse publicity has rendered a fair trial impossible

Breifne O’Brien. Photograph: Collins Courts

Breifne O’Brien. Photograph: Collins Courts

 


Businessman Breifne O’Brien has asked the High Court to permanently block his trial for offences including theft and deception because of adverse publicity he has received in both print and broadcast media.

His barrister Patrick McGrath SC yesterday told High Court President Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns that such is the degree of adverse publicity his client has received that it is not possible for Mr O’Brien to get a fair trial.

Mr O’Brien, Kilmore, Monkstown Grove, Monkstown, Dublin, faces more than 40 charges for theft and deception over an alleged investment fraud. Mr O’Brien, who denies all of the charges he is facing, has been sent forward for trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

He is accused of 19 charges of theft involving sums totalling about €11 million from five individuals between 2006 and 2008 and another 19 charges involve alleged deception of the same people. A further seven charges of deception involving €1.9 million relate one of those five people between 2003 and 2008.

In his High Court action Mr O’Brien (51), who was present in court yesterday, wants the Court to make orders against the Director of Public Prosecutions halting his prosecution.

The DPP, represented by Siobhan Phelan Bl, has opposed Mr O’Brien’s application. The DPP does not accept that Mr O’Brien is at risk of not getting a fair trial and argues the matter should proceed to trial before a judge and jury.

Moving the application, Mr McGrath SC for Mr O’Brien said his client was seeking orders of prohibition due to many references made in reports about the alleged facts in the case against him, as well as from proceedings in the Commercial Court concerning him.

Counsel said that since certain matters first came to light in 2008 his client has been the subject of “a significant amount” of articles published in the majority of Ireland’s newspapers, in the broadcast media, and in a book.

Many of these reports refer to matters that are included in the criminal proceedings against the financial advisor, counsel added. As a result Counsel said that Mr O’Brien would suffer prejudice in a jury trial, and was seeking an order from the court permanently blocking his prosecution.

Counsel, in reply, said he did not believe it was possible that any “passage of the time” could cure the prejudice to Mr O’Brien caused by the adverse publicity.

Counsel opened to the court a number of newspaper articles which he said were prejudicial. In addition, the court viewed a broadcast of a television programme which counsel said was another example of how adverse media attention put his client’s chance of getting a fair trial at risk.

Yesterday Mr Justice Kearns made a direction in respect of the media’s reporting of Mr O’Brien’s High Court action. He ruled that the media are free to report proceedings in a general sense. However, the precise details contained in media reports which Mr O’Brien now claims are adverse to his defence cannot be used in court reports, the Judge held.

The case continues today.