Saturday 25 February 2017

Garda chief backs escort for Lillis witness

Tom Brady Security Editor

Jean Treacy, the former lover of wife killer Eamonn Lillis, was terrified for months about her court ordeal as a vital witness in his trial, gardai have claimed.

Her concerns about being thrust into the public spotlight and losing her privacy were key factors in the garda decision to provide unprecedented security for her while she was travelling to and from the new criminal courts complex in Dublin.

Apart from a handful of subversive trials in the Special Criminal Court, it was the first time that gardai had smuggled a witness in and out of the courthouse to avoid the media.

In a statement last night, Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy said he fully supported the decision, which was based on "operational" reasons.

He did not spell out the factors which led to this unusual decision but he pointed out that many witnesses took giving evidence in court "in their stride".

The commissioner added: "For others, it can be a difficult, sometimes distressing or traumatic experience."

He said a private citizen performed a public service when they gave evidence in court.

"While it can be said to constitute a public duty, giving evidence does not, in my view, make a private citizen a public figure. When a witness's role in a trial has concluded, they should be free to resume their lives without intrusion," the commissioner added.

Mr Murphy said that for some time he had been asked about the difficulties of investigating and prosecuting murders and other crimes where fear prevented the community from offering information or evidence to gardai.

"It would be a grave development if individuals were also to be dissuaded from contacting gardai with valuable information or evidence because of an anxiety or fear that their privacy would be the price exacted for their contribution," he said.

Mr Murphy argued that the circumstances that gave rise to the garda decision were peculiar to the case and were unlikely to arise again "with any regularity". The decision in the Lillis case had been made with regard to the needs and circumstances of the witness, he added.

He said the gardai would continue to deal with those matters on a case-by-case basis.

Irish Independent

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