A solicitor who was working in Gerald Kean's office when it was visited by officers of the Criminal Assets Bureau in March 2016 has told a High Court jury she was "horrified" by a newspaper article concerning that visit.
Sharyn Coghlan, a conveyancing solicitor in Mr Kean’s practice for 14 years, said, when she read the Irish Daily Star article, it looked like Mr Kean was “caught up in criminal gangs”.
She disagreed with Rossa Fanning SC, for the newspaper, that, when the article was read as a whole, a reasonable reader would not get that impression.
She was giving evidence in the continuing action by Mr Kean alleging defamation in the March 11th, 2016 article headlined “Kean caught up in CAB probe”.
Mr Kean claims it wrongly meant he was linked to gangland crime and has damaged him personally and in his practice as a solicitor. Independent Star Ltd denies defamation and has pleaded fair and reasonable publication in the public interest on a matter of public benefit.
The jury has heard two Cab officers went to Mr Kean's office at Upper Pembroke Street in Dublin on March 10th, 2016 with a District Court search warrant. They were seeking documents concerning the purchase of a house at Kildare Road, Crumlin, by a Dublin man, Sean McGovern, as they suspected that house was bought with the proceeds of crime.
Mr McGovern was wounded in the Regency Hotel shooting in February 2016 when gangster David Byrne was shot dead.
On Thursday, Ms Coghlan said she had handled the Crumlin house purchase and, when the Cab officers came to the Kean offices on March 10th, she procured the relevant documents and those were provided to the officers. The officers had told Mr Kean Mr McGovern did not have a criminal record and she had not discussed the Cab visit with anyone else, she said.
That night, Mr Kean phoned her "in a frenzy" having seen the Star article headlined on a TV programme and she was so worried about him she considered driving to his home in Wicklow. When she bought the newspaper the following day, she was horrified by the article which she believed made Mr Kean "look like a suspect in something which he was not involved in".
She received several calls about it, including from clients wondering should they take their files out of the firm and if it had an issue with Cab. Under cross-examination, she agreed Mr McGovern was aged 29 when he bought the Crumlin property for €155,000 cash. It was not routine to make house purchase for cash but some buyers did and there were documents showing Mr McGovern was a director of a car company, she said.
She recalled the conveyance as a “relatively straightforward” transaction. The Cab officers had assured herself and Mr Kean their visit concerned Mr McGovern, the firm had no liability or responsibility, and the visit would have no impact on it, she said.
Earlier, under continuing cross-examination by Eoin McCullough, for the newspaper, Mr Kean agreed the search warrant obtained by Cab was a formal document permitting Cab to enter his premises, by force if necessary, search it and seize documents concerning the Crumlin house transaction. He was presented with a warrant but the Cab officers did not “search” or “raid” the office and did not “seize” documents as those were provided to them, he said.
He agreed references in the article to Cab “calling” to the office as part of its probe into the Kinahan drugs cartel and seeking a file relating to the McGovern house purchase, were correct. He also agreed the activities of criminal gangs, and the efforts of gardaí and Cab to combat those, are of public interest and concern.
His complaint was about the entirety of the article, including the headline and use of photos of him which made him look “as if the world had collapsed on me”. He agreed he had options other than defamation proceedings to deal with his complaints about the article.
John Murphy, a solicitor based in Enniscorthy, said, when he initially saw the article, he got the impression Mr Kean was “in big trouble” and was “caught up in criminality”. When he read the article in full, he realised it concerned a Cab call to a solicitor’s office and the solicitor had co-operated with the Cab officers. When Cab calls to a solicitor’s office, that facilitates a solicitor releasing a file which otherwise they could not release because a client’s file is confidential, he said. It is the client who is being investigated by Cab, not the solicitor, he added. He agreed with Mr Fanning it is for the jury to decide what the article means. The case continues on Friday.