A civil servant in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) gave a tip-off about the imminent arrest of a suspect for the murder of dissident republican Peter Butterly, a court has heard.
Father-of-three, Jonathan Lennon (35) from Clonee, Dublin 15, has pleaded not guilty to breaking the Official Secrets Act in relation to criminal proceedings resulting from the murder of Peter Butterly.
The service officer has gone on trial before Judge John Hughes at Dublin District Court and is accused of leaking sensitive information.
Judge Hughes was told the defendant allegedly alerted a third party that another person, who was a suspect, was about to be arrested after having a "nosey" in his file at work.
Dissident republican Butterly was shot dead in view of students waiting for their school bus on the afternoon of March 6th, 2013 outside The Huntsman Inn, Gormanston, Co Meath.
Mr Lennon is accused of four offences contrary to Section Four and 13 of the Official Secrets Act 1963, as amended by Section 48 of the Freedom of Information Act 1997.
It is alleged that on September 7th, 2017 and the following day, at a place unknown in Dublin, without authorisation, he communicated with another person official information within the possession, custody or control of the DPP, a holder of public office, relating to the prosecution of individuals arising from the murder of Peter Butterly on March 6th, 2013.
Opening the case for the prosecution Michael Delaney SC, with Dara Hayes BL, gave Judge Hughes the background to the charges.
He said Mr Lennon previously worked in the Department of Defence and was accepted to take up a service officer's position in the office of the DPP, on Infirmary Road, in Dublin.
He was working in the post room. He commenced working there on January 3rd, 2017 and it was his role to collect, deliver and circulate files in the building.
There was a file relating to the murder of Peter Butterly from an internal feud in an organisation styling itself as the IRA. Mr Delaney said it led to a number of trials and some men had been convicted of the murder and others of firearms offences or IRA membership.
Mr Lennon grew up in Corduff area of Blanchardstown and from playing football he knew one of the suspects, counsel said in his opening speech.
A search of Mr Lennon’s home under warrant took place in September 2018, counsel said. Various items and memorabilia recovered there suggested the service officer “had republican sympathies”.
Mr Delaney told Judge Hughes that it would be fair to say that Mr Lennon was not well disposed to the man at the time of these offences.
On the morning of September 7th, 2017 a directing officer in the DPP's office had generated a letter for senior counsel referring to five suspects. The letter mentioned them being brought before the Special Criminal Court the following morning, September 8, 2017.
The letter contained legal advice pertinent to the investigation into the role of the suspect.
It was the prosecution case that Mr Lennon read that letter on the afternoon of September 7th, 2017 before it was brought to the post room to be dispatched to senior counsel.
Mr Delaney said it would be the State’s case that Mr Lennon told other men about the forthcoming arrest and Special Criminal Court appearance of the suspect the following day.
Mr Delaney said circumstantial evidence related to steps taken with the file, CCTV evidence of Mr Lennon, text messages and statements given by the defendant.
Mr Lennon was arrested twice and interviewed eight times, Judge Hughes heard.
The letter was generated at 10.40am on September 7th, 2017 by directing officer Orla Keenan and was collected from her desk at 2.15pm. Mr Lennon was one of three service officers working that afternoon and the letter had to be collected by one of them.
CCTV showed him looking at a folded letter as he walked through the building, counsel said.
When questioned by gardaí, Mr Lennon was shown footage and he accepted he opened the letter to have a have a look, “or to use his own language, ‘to have nosey’,” counsel added.
His phone was seized and forensically examined, and texts gleaned from it were about a meeting with a man in a graveyard in Mulhuddart.
Mr Lennon was to meet him and pay €20 for Irish Republican Prisoner Welfare Association badges. There was a text message the previous day about arranging the meeting but counsel said significantly on the next day a text message on Mr Lennon's phone confirmed the meeting.
It said, “Cool, I’ll even have better things to give you,” counsel told the court.
It was alleged there was another exchange of texts from which the prosecution can say Mr Lennon disclosed during the cemetery meeting about the imminent arrest, the barrister said.
When officers went to arrest the suspect the next day “he appeared to be expecting gardaí”. The court heard the man was fully dressed standing at his front door holding his coat and cap but he did not have a mobile phone on him at that moment.
Counsel said there had been a text message from Mr Lennon to another man with the same information about the imminent arrest.
The next day there was a news item about the case in the Special Criminal Court.
It was alleged Mr Lennon sent a text message to another named man saying, “I think it’s just membership”, and “just seen file, membership and waiting for directions for other charges”.
It was the State’s case that he was again disclosing confidential information without authorisation.
The court heard he also sent a text saying Mr Butterly was lured by a friend to his death.
Witness Orla Keenan, who had drafted the file, said she had used the phrase “lured” in the letter to describe the murder. She said the file was yellow and marked for dispatch and return and the defendant would have collected it but did not have permission to read the documents.
Witnesses from the human resource department told the court the defendant had gone through security clearances before he started working in the DPP’s office and he had been told he was subject to the Official Secrets Act.
He had access to the computer network but not the directing officers’ computer files. He was also told not to tell many people where he worked because that “can lead to difficult questions”.
The trial continues on Wednesday.