Witness told gardaí barrister shot unarmed man in back of head

Father-of-four Keith Conlon said to have turned away after verbal altercation

A witness told gardaí that a leading barrister shot an unarmed father-of-four in the back of the head as he turned to run away after an altercation on farmland in Tallaght last month, the High Court has heard.

The court heard however, the senior lawyer told gardaí in an interview that he believed he was under threat and was “terrified”.

The High Court heard on Tuesday it would be alleged that senior counsel and law lecturer Diarmuid Rossa Phelan had first "deliberately shot" Keith Conlon's dog with a legally held rifle without any forewarning.

A witness told gardaí that the accused then fired three shots from a licensed revolver following a “verbal altercation”, with the final shot hitting the deceased in the back of the head after he had turned to run away, the court also heard.


Mr Phelan, who gave evidence today via video-link, told Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy that there was no possibility of him trying to evade justice saying: "I have to clear my name".

Ms Justice Murphy is expected to deliver a decision on Wednesday on Mr Phelan’s application to be granted bail.

Mr Phelan (53), of Kiltalown Lane, Tallaght, Co Dublin is accused of murdering Mr Conlon (36) at Hazelgrove Farm, Kiltalown Lane, Tallaght, on February 22 last.

Mr Conlon, from Kiltalown Park in Tallaght, was severely injured in the shooting incident and died at Tallaght University Hospital two days later.

At today’s bail hearing, Detective Garda Mick McGrath from Tallaght Garda Station told Jane McGowan BL for the State, that gardaí were objecting to bail under the “O’Callaghan principles”, where it is argued the accused is a likely flight risk.

There is also an objection to bail under Section 2 of the Bail Act, which allows the refusal of bail if the court is satisfied such a refusal is necessary to prevent the accused committing a serious offence while on bail.

Outlining his objections to bail, Det Gda McGrath said it would be alleged that a group of three unarmed men were out hunting with a dog at 1.10pm on February 22, when they entered the lands at Hazelgrove Farm and had an encounter with the landowner. The detective said it would also be alleged that Mr Phelan had “deliberately shot” Mr Conlon’s dog with his licensed rifle without any forewarning.

‘Verbal altercation’

The witness said that “a verbal altercation” occurred between two of the men and Mr Phelan.

Det Gda McGrath testified that Mr Phelan’s employees, who were the majority of witnesses at the scene, said he had fired three shots from his licensed revolver and the last shot was allegedly “fired directly” at Mr Conlon and hit him in the back of the head.

The court heard that Mr Phelan had two guns on him and that after the first shot was fired Mr Conlon and his friends went to run away.

Mr Conlon was taken to Tallaght Hospital and the accused stayed at the scene, where he spoke to gardaí.

“He admitted to myself that he shot the deceased and was subsequently arrested by myself and brought to Tallaght Garda Station where he was detained over three days,” said the detective.

Det Gda McGrath said the length of time between the shooting of the dog and Mr Conlon was two to three minutes or “maybe less”.

The witness told Ms Justice Murphy that he was fearful that if Mr Phelan was granted bail he would abscond.

The court heard Mr Phelan is a senior counsel, that he works for Trinity College, has links to the "north of Ireland, " mainland Europe and the US as well as considerable assets and finance.

Det Gda McGrath said that given the extensive contacts abroad and considerable assets “I consider him a flight risk and he may not turn up for his upcoming trial”.

He said that due to the seriousness of the offence he did not consider any conditions of bail appropriate.

‘I shot him’

When asked by Ms McGowan whether the accused had been caught red-handed, Det Gda McGrath said Mr Phelan had been arrested at the scene and made admissions to gardaí in relation to the shooting prior to his arrest. The accused is alleged to have told the witness: “I shot him, the minute he was hurt I stopped”.

Defence counsel Michael O’Higgins SC then read accounts given by his client to gardaí in interview. Mr Phelan told gardaí that he shot the dog after seeing it alone behind a bush on his land, and that three men, who appeared to be hiding then “exploded from the bush”.

“I hate shooting the dogs. I then saw the Travellers coming towards us. I shouted I have called gardaí, they kept coming. I did not know where the third man was. I shouted at them to keep back and they kept coming. I walked forward a few steps and said more forcibly. I was terrified.

The lawyer then listed over 20 occasions where a series of written complaints were made to gardaí involving Mr Phelan and a Travellers’ halting site which adjoined his land.

The detective told Mr O’Higgins that the deceased, who he knew for over 15 years, lived locally in Tallaght and was not a settled Traveller.

“We will agree to differ,” replied the barrister.

Under cross-examination by Mr O’Higgins, the witness said he was not sure whether his client had personally phoned gardaí but agreed that he had gone to the house to get a First Aid kit and directed gardaí to where Mr Conlon was.

The witness said that the accused had made an admission to firing the weapon.

Wearing a white shirt and jacket, Mr Phelan, who is the father of four children, told Mr O’Higgins via video-link that he promised to turn up for his trial.

The accused said he is an associate professor of law in Trinity College and had been employed there since 1994. He has also practiced at the Bar since 1994 and was called to the inner bar in 2008.

Under cross-examination, Mr Phelan told Ms McGowan that there was no possibility of him trying to evade justice saying: “I have to clear my name”.

When asked about the 22 complaints made to gardaí, the accused said: “There are far many more calls made, those complaints are only in letter”.

The bail hearing will resume on Wednesday morning.