Gardai tight-lipped over court escort for mistress
GARDAI last night refused to explain why a woman who had an affair with murder accused Eamonn Lillis was brought into the new Criminal Courts of Justice under garda escort and through an underground entrance.
This ensured that witness Jean Treacy, who told the court she had started the affair with Mr Lillis eight weeks before the death of his wife Celine Cawley, could not be photographed as she entered or left the courts complex.
The manner in which the massage therapist arrived in court was unusual compared to the absence of security for other witnesses in the trial.
There does not appear to be any reason why Ms Treacy should receive protective treatment from the gardai as there is no evidence of the witness being under any form of threat.
In court, before and after Ms Treacy gave evidence, gardai formed a "wall of protection" around her to shield her from the view of the public and media attending the trial.
The move is a major departure from the treatment of witnesses, who gave evidence at trials in the Four Courts complex. A meeting will take place today between the Courts Service and the National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI) to discuss ongoing issues in relation to media access at the new €140m building.
When the new building was being designed, the needs of security and privacy of people in custody was reflected in an underground complex which can accommodate 100 prisoners. Last night, the garda press office said that it would not be appropriate to make any comment in relation to an ongoing prosecution. Gardai also refused to disclose the legislative basis for the unusual procedure.
One senior officer admitted that it was highly unusual for a witness, whose safety was not endangered as a result of giving evidence, to be afforded such protection.
A spokesman for the Courts Service said : "We would like to point out that the Courts Service has no part to play in making a decision to transport witnesses through the secure entrance to the Criminal Courts of Justice or any courthouse."
The procedure is at odds with a number of Supreme Court pronouncements on media coverage of court cases.
DEARBHAIL McDONALD ANALYSIS: PAGE 29