Brian Rattigan sentenced to nine years for killing former friend
Dublin criminal admitted 2001 stabbing outside Abrakebabra and wrote apology to man’s mother
Brian Rattigan (38) has been in prison for most of his adult life and pleaded guilty last October to killing 21-year-old Declan Gavin. Photograph: Collins Courts
Dublin criminal Brian Rattigan, who admitted killing his former friend and wrote a letter of apology to his mother asking for forgiveness, has been jailed for nine years at the Central Criminal Court for manslaughter.
Speaking outside court today, Chief Superintendent Brian Sutton said this was “the first time” Rattigan had “put his hand up” for the killing of Mr Gavin.
Passing sentence earlier, Mr Justice Michael White said it has been over 17 years since Mr Gavin’s death and his family had waited a very long time for closure and for Rattigan to say he was responsible for the victim’s death.
The Gavin family had felt the letter of apology from Rattigan was “too little too late”, said the judge, but the court hoped they will now have some respite and be comforted in their fond memories of him.
Mr Gavin was stabbed to death outside an Abrakebabra fast-food restaurant on Crumlin Road in Dublin in the early hours of August 25th, 2001. He received two knife wounds, one to the hand but a fatal one to the heart.
Rattigan went on trial for his murder twice in 2009. The first jury could not reach a verdict but a second jury convicted him. However, that conviction was successfully appealed in 2017.
The former gangland figure was due to go on trial for the crime again this month, but the State accepted his plea to manslaughter when he entered it on arraignment on October 22nd last. The convicted criminal also said on the same occasion that he was sorry to the victim’s family and anyone else he had hurt through his actions.
Before delivering the sentence this morning, Mr Justice White said this was an involuntary manslaughter case where the death of another results from an unlawful and dangerous act.
Aggravating factors in the case included Rattigan bringing an offensive weapon to a group of youths when he was high on drugs and alcohol as well as the tragic loss of Mr Gavin and the impact this loss had on his family.
Mitigating factors in sentencing, Mr Justice White said, were the guilty plea and the length of time it has taken to prosecute the crime. “The accused caused the delay but he always denied murder,” he indicated.
The judge noted another mitigating factor was Rattigan’s attendance at and completion of significant drug and alcohol awareness courses in prison which hopefully indicated “a substantial departure” from the defendant’s previous criminal behaviour.
Much too late
Another possible mitigating factor was a letter written by Rattigan to the Gavin family expressing his remorse but the judge said this was “much too late” to be considered as such.
Mr Justice White said the court did not intend to impose a consecutive sentence and Rattigan had not served any time for this offence.
Referring to the defendant, the judge said he was entitled to have the sentence imposed from the date he entered the plea and it was not appropriate to backdate it any further considering the seriousness of the offence.
The headline sentence for the offence was 13 years imprisonment, the judge said, but the appropriate sentence to hand down was nine years.
Mr Justice White sentenced Rattigan to nine years imprisonment, backdated to October 1st, 2018.
Dressed in a blue jacket and a navy tie, Rattigan wore a neatly trimmed beard and glasses for today’s sentence hearing. He did not react when the sentence was revealed.
Prosecuting counsel Pauline Walley SC said at the sentence hearing last December that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had accepted a plea to manslaughter from Rattigan as the case’s “frailties” were likely to render the success of another murder trial “questionable”.
Rattigan had already served a sentence for two counts of assault causing harm before killing Mr Gavin and Chief Supt Sutton outlined the other convictions that have kept him behind bars since 2003 at his sentence hearing last month. These included a firearms offence, assault and violent disorder.
Rattigan is currently serving a 17-year sentence imposed in 2013 for controlling the possession of drugs for sale or supply from “within the prison walls”. This was backdated to 2008 and the expiration date was May 2025 but allowing for remission, Rattigan was due for release in November 2019.
“Speaking outside the Criminal Courts of Justice today, Chief Supt Sutton said: “On behalf of An Garda Siochana our thoughts are with the Gavin family today. Since 2001 this has been hanging over them, the killing of their brother Declan, their son Declan. They have been through several court proceedings and appeal proceedings and we are hopeful today for a bit of closure for the family and the extended Gavin family.”
"This was a difficult investigation. I want to pay compliment to the initial investigators and the people that followed up on it which resulted in a lengthy sentence for Brian Rattigan today.
He was serving sentences in other matters even though he was charged. The charge was thrown out for lack of service of the book of evidence and then he was re-charged in 2005 and as a result of that charge it led to this sentence today.”
“The scope of the investigation was difficult at the outset because we had an amount of reluctant witnesses and also when it came to trial some of the witnesses, even after being served witness orders, had to be arrested and brought to before the court, so there were several difficulties that it posed,” he said.
“We dealt with it in our own organisation by arresting our own witnesses and bringing them to court to give evidence,” he added.
“The Gavin family are happy, not only for the sentence, but the fact that there is closure and they are happy to move on with their lives. This is the first time he (Rattigan) put his hand up for the killing of Declan Gavin,” concluded Chief Supt Sutton.
At last month’s sentence hearing on December 20, prosecuting counsel Pauline Walley SC reminded Mr Justice Michael White that Rattigan had pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter.
“The prosecution indicated that, given the exceptional features now associated with this case, the director would accept this plea to manslaughter because of those features,” she said.
Chief Superintendent Sutton summarised the facts of the case during the sentence hearing and agreed with Ms Walley that the case had “a complex litigation history”. Various judicial reviews had been taken from 2005 to 2008 before the two trials got underway in 2009.
Rattigan had made an unsuccessful appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal in 2013 before his successful appeal to the Supreme Court in 2017.
Chief Supt Sutton told Ms Walley that a man in a balaclava was witnessed stabbing Mr Gavin, who retreated into the safety of Abrakebabra. The evidence against Rattigan included his prints being found next to Mr Gavin’s blood on the restaurant’s door, he said, through which the defendant had tried to chase his victim.
Chief Supt Sutton said that over 300 witness statements were taken as part of the investigation. However, it was a difficult investigation, he said. “Over 22 people were arrested for withholding information,” he explained.
Rattigan had denied involvement, insisting that he had not been to the scene in months. “I won’t admit. Yous prove it. That’s your job,” he had said.
The court heard that Rattigan was eventually charged in 2003, but this was struck out of the District Court later that year for failure to serve the book of evidence.
“It was a complex investigation and took a while to get the book of evidence together,” explained Chief Supt Sutton, adding that there was a large number of very reluctant witnesses.
He was re-charged in 2005 but took judicial review proceedings seeking an order of prohibition.
Rattigan argued that there had been both an unacceptable delay and prejudicial pre-trial publicity, which would prevent a fair trial. He lost his case the following year but appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court agreed that there was a delay but found that the forensic evidence of blood and prints were extraordinary, exceptional and unexplained, and cried out to be examined.
The court also took the view that there would be a media “fade factor” by the time his case came to court and that this would allow him a fair trial. It ruled in 2008 that the trial could proceed.
Chief Supt Sutton said that a feature of both trials was that some key witnesses professed to no-longer remember what they had stated to gardaí.
Some did not make themselves available and had to be arrested. Others left the jurisdiction. Some were charged with contempt and their statements had to be read to the court, using special legal provisions.
One of these statements was described as a key piece of evidence and was made by a friend of both men, David Byrne.
“He was subsequently murdered in the Regency shooting,” said Chief Supt Sutton.
Niall Hannigan, another key witness in both trials, is also deceased.
Such witnesses had described Mr Gavin being in good form before the attack. He had been going to leave in a taxi with some girls, but the car was full.
Accept the plea
Professor John Harbison, who had carried out the autopsy, was unavailable for the trials due to medical reasons. That was overcome at the time, but was likely to have been a greater problem if the trial had proceeded in January of this year.
Despite the difficulties, a jury found him guilty in 2009. He was the last person to be convicted of murder in the Four Courts.
However, he appealed this conviction and the Supreme Court eventually quashed it. A retrial was ordered in 2018. It would have begun earlier this month and lasted six weeks, but Rattigan decided to offer a plea to manslaughter.
Chief Supt Sutton agreed that all the frailties mentioned and the passage of time were likely to render the success of the trial questionable. The DPP, therefore, decided to accept the plea.
He agreed that, although this was painful for the Gavin family, it was bringing them closure.
Chief Supt Sutton agreed with Brendan Grehan SC, defending, that Rattigan had recently written a letter of apology to Mr Gavin’s widowed mother. However, Pauline Gavin had declined to read the letter when she received it the week before the sentence hearing, feeling that it was “a little bit late”.
Mr Justice Michael White asked the witness if Rattigan had ever been in custody only in relation to Mr Gavin’s death. He replied that he had not.
Turned upside down
Mr Gavin’s sister, Tara Gavin, delivered a victim impact statement at the sentence hearing in which she said that the loss and sadness had not disappeared over the past 17 years.
“Declan was my little brother and, even after all these years, I can’t begin to describe how close we were,” she said. “He made me laugh.”
She said that his amazing sense of humour was what she had missed most of all. She said that happiness had been taken from their home and replaced with a sense darkness.
“My world turned upside down,” she said.
She explained that she had gone from someone concentrating on finishing college and looking forward to travelling to someone, who couldn’t comprehend what she was going to do next.
She said that watching the effect it was having on her mother was soul destroying.
She said that the manner in which her brother had died and the events that followed were things she couldn’t bare to think about.
“It was an extremely hard time to live through,” she said.
“We acknowledge the short letter of apology,” she continued. “After so many years of listening to: ‘I didn’t kill Declan’, it seems the timing of this apology is a little too convenient.”
She said that the family had waited nearly 18 years to hear what they’d known after 24 hours: that Brian Rattigan was responsible for her brother’s death.
She finished by thanking her mother for doing everything possible to encourage her to live her life.
Mr Grehan read out his client’s letter to Mrs Pauline Gavin. “I’m very sorry for taking your son’s life,” he wrote. “I’ve regretted that night in silence ever since. As I get older, it doesn’t get any easier.”
He said that he hoped she could find peace and closure now. “May Declan rest in peace and may God protect him,” he concluded.
Mr Grehan asked the judge to take this and a number of testimonials into account.
He also outlined his achievements while in prison, which included playing the lead or a supporting part in a production of Cinderella. He had also obtained a diploma and certificates in various subjects.