Ruling next week on evidence by Garda unit

Three men being tried are charged with murder of dissident republican

The  court is to rule on whether members of the force from the national surveillance unit can give evidence anonymously. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

The court is to rule on whether members of the force from the national surveillance unit can give evidence anonymously. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

The Special Criminal Court will rule next week on whether gardaí from the national surveillance unit can give evidence anonymously in the trial of three men charged with the murder of dissident republican Peter Butterly.

Edward McGrath (32), of Land Dale Lawns, Springfield, Tallaght; Dean Evans (22), of Grange Park Rise, Raheny, and Sharif Kelly (43), of Pinewood Green Road, Balbriggan, have pleaded not guilty to the murder of Peter Butterly (35), who was shot dead in the car park of the Huntsman Inn at Gormanston, Co Meath, on March 6th, 2013.

Mr Evans and Mr McGrath have also pleaded not guilty to firearm offences at the same address and on the same date.

Following lengthy legal applications by counsel for all sides in the trial, the non-jury court will rule on a number of matters next week prior to the commencement of a full hearing.

On Tuesday, the court will rule on whether the names and addresses of nine national surveillance unit officers can be withheld from the defence and from the public.

In what has been described as an “extraordinary and unusual application” by defence counsel, the DPP has also applied to erect a “screen” between surveillance officers and the public in order to protect their physical characteristics.

A detective superintendent said the case “had attracted a lot of attention from the public and from members of the wider families and wider associations of the accused”.

It was his belief that “to reveal their identity and physical characteristics in this prosecution could place their lives at risk and risk the effectiveness and security of Garda operations in the future”. He said the application was being made with the knowledge of the Garda Commissioner.

Forensic evidence

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions Una Ní­ Raifeartaigh, said the prosecution’s case will call on forensic evidence, firearm residue evidence, DNA evidence and also evidence from David Cullen (30), with a last address at Brackenwood Avenue, Balbriggan, who was “part of the murder plan himself”.

Lawyers for each accused had sought the disclosure of all potentially relevant information regarding the reliability and credibility of Cullen as a prosecution witness.

In July, he was jailed for 3½ years, having pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of a 9mm calibre Beretta model 9000s semi-automatic pistol at the Huntsman Inn on March 6th, 2013.

His plea was accepted by the DPP and a nolle prosequi – a decision not to proceed – was entered on the count of murder.

Final submissions

Today’s presiding judge Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy asked all sides to carefully consider final submissions on the State’s application to permit nine gardaí from the surveillance unit to give evidence in the trial anonymously.

Ms Justice Murphy said “the interference with cross-examination rights” by giving people video link facilities was done with specific statutory powers.

“You’re now telling me,” Ms Justice Murphy said to counsel for the DPP, “that the right to know the identity of your accuser can be set aside” by the powers of the Special Criminal Court.

She said the court would deliver its ruling on the matter next Tuesday afternoon, the day on which the case resumes before Judges Cormac Dunne and Margaret Heneghan with Ms Justice Murphy presiding.