Damages claim by man whose murder conviction was quashed fails

Peter Pringle won appeal in 1995 against conviction for 1980 murders of two gardaí

Peter Pringle was convicted of killing two gardaí following a 1980 bank robbery, but he won an appeal against his conviction in 1995.

Peter Pringle was convicted of killing two gardaí following a 1980 bank robbery, but he won an appeal against his conviction in 1995.

 

A man who escaped a death sentence over the murders of two gardaí has lost his High Court case seeking damages for wrongful arrest.

Peter Pringle (81), was convicted of killing two young officers following a 1980 bank robbery.

But he won an appeal against his conviction in 1995 – over a disputed entry in a Garda notebook – and walked free from prison.

Ever since, Mr Pringle – the father of Donegal Independent TD Thomas Pringle – has been trying to prove in the civil courts that he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

A judge has now thrown out his long-running wrongful arrest lawsuit against the State – on the basis he took too long to progress it.

As Ms Justice Carmel Stewart rejected his case in court in recent days, Mr Pringle’s barrister Declan McGovern SC insisted: “The plaintiff [Mr Pringle] is innocent.”

Appeal

But the judge agreed not to formally dismiss his case for another 28 days to give Mr Pringle time to lodge an appeal – which he intends to do.

Mr Pringle says his human rights were repeatedly breached when he was wrongly arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned over one of the most shocking crimes in the State’s history.

He first lodged the case in 1995 seeking a compensation payout. It was vigorously opposed by the State since then.

Speaking to The Irish Times after the hearing, Mr Pringle vowed to take his case to the Supreme Court – and beyond – if he has to.

“I will take it as far as it goes, to Europe if necessary . . . It’s too important not to,” he said.

Next year will mark 40 years since father of three Garda John Morley (37) and Garda Henry Byrne (29), a father of two whose wife was pregnant with their third child, were shot dead by a criminal gang.

At about 2.40pm on July 7th, 1980, three masked robbers stole about IR£35,000 from a Bank of Ireland at Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon.

The gang crashed their getaway car into a Garda car before the two gardaí were killed in a shoot-out.

Two other men, Paddy McCann and Colm O’Shea, were arrested on that day and went on to serve their full 40-year sentences with remission.

Mr Pringle’s arrest followed 12 days later.

Mr Pringle has always insisted he was never that third man and was wrongly locked up for almost 15 years.

In support of their own case, gardaí said by the time they located and arrested him, he had shaved his beard and dyed his hair red.

Dismissing his case at the Criminal Courts of Justice last Thursday, Ms Justice Stewart stressed she was making no decision as to the main substance of Mr Pringle’s case.

But she felt a fair hearing couldn’t be guaranteed due to the length of time that has passed since the events in question.

The judge found Mr Pringle responsible for “inordinate and inexcusable delay” in progressing his own case. She also awarded legal costs against him.

She said: “The plaintiff stands acquitted of the charges. But as to whether that gives rise to any cause of action in civil law is a different issue.”

Alleged admission

At trial in 1980, Mr Pringle was convicted mainly on the basis of his alleged admission of involvement in the crimes after being questioned in custody by detectives.

In November 1980 the Special Criminal Court sentenced the one-time IRA activist to death.

He spent seven months on Ireland’s then equivalent of death row in the belief that he would be hanged.

But his punishment was downgraded to a 40-year jail sentence in June 1981 by Ireland’s then president, Patrick Hillery.

Mr Pringle told The Irish Times the murders of the two gardaí were “a terrible tragedy”, adding: “I had no hand, act or part in any of it.”

He said he is now a pensioner who has no money and is being treated for cancer.