It wasn’t a great car but it would do the job nicely. Toyota Avensis. Red, 1998 registration. On the road after 15 years – a minor miracle in itself.
It was owned by Carly Byrne and she was pleased when she struck a deal, on March 3rd, 2013, to sell it to Damien Keoghan who lived in Liberty House flats in Dublin's north inner city.
Word of a party
Tuesday, March 12th, 2013: Barcelona v AC Milan, second leg tie. Both teams fighting for a place in the Champions League quarter final, Milan going into the game with a two-goal advantage from the first leg in the San Siro. It would be a cracking night’s football.
Darren Mulhall and a bunch of friends – Mark Carroll, Stephen O'Shaughnessy, Alan O'Brien, Gerard Black and Anto Dolan – decided to watch the game in Mulhall's brother's pub, Molloy's on Ballybough Road in north Dublin, also known as The Ref Pub.
Sure enough, the football didn’t disappoint: Lionel Messi wiped out Milan’s advantage with two crackers of his own in the first half. In the second half, team mates David Villa and Jordi Alba finished off the Italians with two more.
As the friends would recount later, there was nothing much unusual about the night. They said they had three, maybe four, pints and then, around about 10pm, Dolan called a taxi to take them to O'Shaughnessy's house in Tallaght.
There was word of a party there.
Taxi man John McGinley got a call from National Radio Cabs: six lads, pub on Ballybough Road, going to Tallaght. Lead passenger’s name: Anthony.
McGinley is something of a techie and doesn’t do regular taxiing in Ireland. Most of the time he’s resident in Brazil but in the spring of 2013, he was back home for family reasons.
He arrived at the pub soon after getting the fare alert from National Radio Cabs. Waiting outside in his Primastar people carrier van, he called Anto, who was still inside the pub, on his mobile. The six lads emerged and piled in.
Dolan sat in the front passenger seat. Left, behind him, on a flip up, flip down seat was Mulhall. O’Brien sat beside Mulhall and was therefore behind McGinley the driver. O’Shaughnessy sat behind the pair of them, sandwiched between Black and Carroll.
McGinley didn’t know any of them; to him they were just another fare on a midweek night.
But they were all very well known to other people . . . in their own special ways.
Anto Dolan was no angel. In 2005, he had been jailed for eight years having been caught red-handed with others at a farmyard in Clonee, Co Meath, where there was a rented container with €4 million worth of cannabis inside.
Dolan was driving a car at the scene, which gardaí had under surveillance when the gang turned up, apparently to move the drugs. Later, Dolan offered police the less than entirely convincing explanation for his presence by saying he was merely “the gobshite” and “the gillie” in the drug operation.
Neither was Stephen O’Shaughnessy pure as the driven snow. He had a long track record, including possession of a gun, assault, and driving without tax and insurance following his arrest with two others in September 2010 in possession of a sub-machine gun and ammunition. He was also charged with membership of the so-called Real IRA.
In April 2011, evidence of O’Shaughnessy’s links to the republican gang was ruled inadmissible but he was sentenced to five years in prison and served time in Portlaoise, Wheatfield and Mountjoy prisons.
Mark Carroll, sometimes known also as Mark Carroll-Harte, had a criminal record for trespass, larceny, handling stolen goods and 28 road traffic convictions, including driving without insurance. In 2008, he was jailed for a year and banned from driving for eight years.
Gerard Black had served time in jail for burglary offences; Alan O’Brien had been banned from driving for five years in 2012; and Darren Mulhall himself had a number of road traffic offences.
But to John McGinley, the six men in his taxi were no different from many other fares: six men going home after a few pints out.
He drove them through the north city from Ballybough and onwards, southwest to Tallaght, avoiding the M50. There was nothing unusual about the journey: at times, the six talked among themselves, at other times there was a lull in the conversation.
A couple of times, some of them used their mobile phones.
It was only when they were a mile or two from their destination – O’Shaughnessy’s home at Avonbeg Gardens on the eastern edge of Tallaght, immediately south of the N81 – that the taxi fell silent.
When this happened, it was, thought McGinley, extremely quiet.
He progressed along Avonbeg Road, the main artery into the estate. Branching off it were all the inner roads of the estate, including Avonbeg Gardens. The taxi wasn't going fast, his passengers would later recall.
As he was about to make a left turn, someone in the taxi said “not this turn”, keep going.
And so he did – driving towards the next left. That was the one he was to use, said the passengers, directing him to go left.
As McGinley turned the steering wheel and the taxi began to negotiate the turn, there was a bang and jolt from the rear – the thump of another vehicle punching the back of the taxi and causing it to spin around.
“It was all over in a flash,” Mulhall recalled later.
The “all over in a flash” was as much as the six passengers could remember. No one, for instance, had actually seen the vehicle that hit them, spinning the taxi around and bringing it to a sudden halt.
But the driver saw it clearly enough.
The other car limped away from the mess it had caused, metal scraping along the road. Its nearside front wheel was bent to an angle of about 90 degrees and was largely useless, like a broken wing on a bird.
That’s not going very far, McGinley thought to himself. He could see the driver and his passenger, both wearing hoodies, and got a clear view of the car as it staggered away along the road: a red Toyota Avensis, registration number 98 D 77099.
It was just like the one bought nine days previously by Damien Keoghan – who by remarkable coincidence happened to be step-father to Gerard Black, one of McGinley’s passengers.
Don’t anyone move, McGinley advised his passengers, some of whom were moaning and groaning. I’ll get help, he told them.
And so he did, dialling 999. Almost immediately, a patrol car attached to Tallaght Garda station was alerted and began making its way to the scene; likewise three ambulances and a fire tender.
As the injured waited for assistance, three of them managed to extricate themselves from the taxi, walk to a nearby wall and urinate before returning to the vehicle where the moaning and groaning resumed.
Some local people emerged from their homes offering cups of tea. McGinley declined politely, he was grand, he said.
In fact, looking at the damage to his taxi, he thought the impact of the crash had not been that severe and he noticed there was little damage to his vehicle, which was still driveable.
Before the gardaí and emergency services arrived, two men wearing hoodies walked towards the crash scene. They went over to the taxi and leaned inside, talking briefly to the passengers.
McGinley got the impression the two men were the same pair he had seen in the Toyota Avensis, the car that had crashed into him. He also got the impression the two men and the passengers knew each other quite well.
The gardaí and emergency services arrived. Garda Ruadhan McLoughlin got out of his patrol car and examined the scene, asking a few preliminary questions as he went. Answers were provided – between the moans and groans – name, address, date of birth: basic scene-of-accident details.
The gardaí quickly realised the six were “known to them”, as the saying goes, particularly Mulhall and O’Shaughnessy.
Garda McLoughlin noted each of the six said they hadn’t got their mobile phones with them. None of them provided their mobile phone numbers.
Unfortunately for the police, there were no closed circuit television cameras near the scene which might have helped explain what had happened.
In due course, the ambulance paramedics removed the six from the taxi, several of them stretchered away on special body boards designed to avoid exacerbating any potential back or spinal injuries. All complained of being injured by the impact of the crash. They were taken to Tallaght Hospital where they were examined by doctors and nurses.
The examinations and medical recommendations were routine: O’Shaughnessy, for instance, had an x-ray, which was clear, and was prescribed painkillers; the same for O’Brien. Carroll was offered an x-ray, which he declined, an ache in his back notwithstanding, and was also prescribed painkillers.
In due course, staff at the hospital allowed all six to go home.
Back at the scene of the crash, McGinley decided to gather up some of the debris on the road. He had suffered no injury and eventually drove himself home in his taxi.
The gardaí asked him to keep an eye out for any car matching the description he gave of the Avensis that had hit him. Keep a good look out for any red cars with damage to their front, they said.
McGinley took in what they said. More than that, he acted on it. Next evening, he was in Tallaght again and drove back to the scene of the previous evening’s drama. Around a corner about 300 meters from the scene of the crash, there was the Toyota Avensis, apparently abandoned and incapable of limping further with its crippled front wheel.
McGinley took photos of the car including, crucially, its number plate (98 D 77099), and he was able to match some of the debris he had kept from the scene of the crash to damage on the abandoned Avensis. There was no doubt in his mind: this was the car that had caused the crash.
March 19th, 2013: When the six decided to sue for compensation for the injuries they suffered in the crash, they didn’t have far to go for help.
O’Hanrahan Solicitors is immediately next door to The Ref Pub on Ballybough Road, where their night of drama had begun. Five of the six men were represented by the firm in their action against the Motor Insurers’ Bureau of Ireland (MIBI), the industry umbrella body that deals with claims arising from crashes involving uninsured vehicles or, as in this case, allegedly unidentified vehicles.
The five were Mulhall, O’Brien, Carroll (Carroll-Harte), Dolan and O’Shaughnessy. A sixth claim by Black was subsequently withdrawn.
Exactly a week after the crash, on Tuesday, March 19th, Carroll told his solicitor that a few nights after the incident, he was suffering as a result of what had happened. He was in pain when seated in bed, he said, and was unable to make himself comfortable. The discomfort was continuing and he was going to his doctor for treatment.
The same day, O’Brien also told O’Hanrahan’s he was suffering from stiffness in his neck and lower back and could not get a good night’s sleep. He too was going to go to his doctor; he wanted stronger painkillers.
Eight days later, on March 27th, 2013, O’Shaughnessy also told O’Hanrahan’s he too was suffering in his lower back and was not sleeping well.
O’Brien and O’Shaughnessy, although they gave statements to their solicitor more than a week apart, had precisely the same recollection of the crash.
“There were shards of glass etc strewn throughout the taxi van and we were all immediately shocked,” O’Brien told managing partner Tim O’Hanrahan on March 19th, adding: “The taxi driver then telephoned An Garda Síochána and shortly after the gardaí, ambulance and fire brigade arrived at the scene of the accident.”
O’Shaughnessy told Mr O’Hanrahan on March 27th: “There were shards of glass etc strewn throughout the taxi van and we were all immediately shocked,” adding a precisely similar recollection of the arrival of the emergency services.
Within days of claims being lodged formally with the MIBI against the unidentified car which caused the crash, the insurance resolution process kicked into action. McGinley's taxi was insured with Liberty Insurance but all claims against the MIBI are case-managed by major insurance companies on a rotation basis.
In this instance, it was the turn of Aviva Insurance, which has a team of investigators devoted full-time to probing suspect claims. Six months after the crash, in September 2013, each of the six claimants was interviewed individually by an Aviva investigator.
Their stories were similar – and similarly vague on key details. There were suggestions that, somehow, McGinley had been to blame, by veering unexpectedly to his right, thereby hitting the other car, which was totally untrue.
The insurance company had suspicions, not least because of what the taxi driver and gardaí had told them, but more so because of the litany of criminal convictions, readily available through online searches, of the claimants.
But it took until October 2014 for the big breakthrough to emerge.
The insurance industry has access to vehicle ownership records and by the time investigators ran a trace on 98 D 77099, the new ownership of Damien Keoghan, of Liberty House in Dublin 1, had been registered.
One of the six in the taxi, Black, lived in Killarney Court, less than 1km away from Liberty House, an unusual coincidence, the investigators thought: a crash happens in Tallaght, more than 10km from where one of the victims lives but the rogue vehicle involved turns out to be owned by someone who lives close to him.
Investigators suspected Killarney Court was not the home in which Black grew up, that he had moved there in later life.
His birth certificate showed his mother was named Martina and a search of Thom’s Directory revealed there were Blacks living in Liberty House over the years. By yet another coincidence, Damien Keoghan’s wife was named Martina.
Could she have been Martina Black, Gerard Black's mother? Damien Keoghan's marriage certificate showed his wife indeed was Martina Black, Gerard Black's mother.
What were the chances?
Only five of the claims were pursued to court. Black withdrew his action at the end of March this year.
Last Monday, the crash compensation case came to court before Judge Jacqueline Linnane sitting in the Dublin Circuit Court. Black as plaintiff number one, should have been first up, but in his absence it was Mulhall, plaintiff number two.
At stake was compensation of up to €60,000 and if he won, the remaining four plaintiffs could also expect a satisfactory day in court.
But MIBI's barrister Paul Murray had other ideas.
He launched into Mulhall exposing his repeated lying:about his relationship with the others, showing that, far from the night being a casual encounter in a pub as Mulhall alleged, they were all long-standing and close personal friends; about their criminal records – “Did you have any qualms about associating with these people,” he asked. “No, not really,” said Mulhall; about discrepancies between them as to where they sat in the taxi, what went on during the journey, and what happened in the crash itself; about the implausibility of none of them seeing the vehicle that hit the taxi; about their lying to the gardaí over their mobile phones.
“You’re twisting it, you’re twisting it,” complained Mulhall. The gardaí and the taxi driver would be giving evidence, said Murray – “don’t worry about that,” he told Mulhall. And, the coup de grâce, he questioned him about the ownership of the Toyota Avensis responsible for the “crash”.
“Isn’t that just the most amazing coincidence of all time,” Murray said to Mulhall, “that Mr Black, one of the occupants of your car, was hit from behind by a car which had been sold nine days earlier to his father or stepfather. Isn’t that just the most amazing coincidence?”
You’ve been caught out, added Murray.
“All I can say to you,” replied Mulhall, “[is] I find that very hard to believe. . . You’re an expert at twisting this whole story and you’re very good at it . . . This was not one bit a set-up.”
Reflections over lunch had an effect, however.
On resumption, Murray told Judge Linnane there would be no need to trouble her further with the case. All the claims were being “withdrawn”, he announced.
“[It is] very clear,” said Judge Linnane, “there was a set-up.”