Damages claim by man whose murder conviction was quashed opposed

Peter Pringle had conviction for murder of two gardaí during bank robbery overturned

  Peter Pringle  arriving at the Four Courts for the High Court action. Photograph: Collins Courts

Peter Pringle arriving at the Four Courts for the High Court action. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

The State has asked the High Court to dismiss a damages claim brought by Peter Pringle, who served almost 15 years in prison before his 1980 conviction for the murder of two gardaí was overturned as unsafe and unsatisfactory.

He was originally sentenced to death for the murder of gardaí John Morley and Henry Byrne but his sentence was later commuted to 40 years imprisonment of which he served 14 years and ten months until his conviction was quashed by the Court of Criminal Appeal in 1995.

He is opposing the State’s bid to dismiss his damages action and has brought a separate motion to have the State discover documents related to DNA testing which he says he requires to progress his damages claim.

In the damages action, he claims the State was negligent and breached his constitutional rights because crucial evidence was not disclosed to him before his trial before the non-jury Special Criminal Court which had convicted him of the murder of both gardaí during a bank robbery in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, in July 1980.

Two other men convicted in 1980 of the murders were released from prison in 2013.

In proceedings that opened before the High Court on Wednesday, Robert Barron SC, applied to have the damages claim, initiated in the mid 1990s, dismissed on grounds including inordinate delay.

The State claims, as a result of the delay, many of the 115 witnesses to events that took place almost 40 years ago are no longer able to recall events accurately, others are difficult to locate and some have died.

It is also alleged Mr Pringle has failed to take steps to advance his proceedings and no explanation has been given for the delay.

Mr Pringle, with an address in Co Galway and represented by Declan McGovern SC and Paul Carroll SC, instructed by solicitor Suina Bartels, denies delay on his part and claims any delay has been caused by the State.

In his discovery application, he wants discovery of documents relating to an analysis carried out in 2002 by the Forensic Science Service in Birmingham.

‘Absolutely essential’

Mr McGovern said that material was “absolutely essential” to Mr Pringle’s claim as he seeks to “further demonstrate” his innocence of the crimes of which he was wrongly convicted.

The discovery application relates to the DNA analysis on samples of hair taken from a car used in the robbery and a voluntary blood sample given by Mr Pringle in 1994.

The State had in 2003 informed Mr Pringle’s lawyers the analysis showed a match had been obtained which provided “strong support” for the proposition the recovered hair originated from Mr Pringle.

Mr Pringle says he was shocked by the results of the DNA testing which, he says, was a further attempt by certain persons employed by the State to continue to frame him for crimes he did not commit. He believes the DNA report is a means to put a stop to his damages claim.

Mr Pringle’s lawyers said they sought paperwork in connection with the DNA analysis and the chain of custody of the samples used in the preparation of the report but that material had not been provided to them.

The State denies Mr Pringle’s claims in relation to the report and opposes the discovery motion.

The hearing, before Ms Justice Carmel Stewart, continues on Friday.