Court backs use of 'reasonable force' against intruders

  • Law introduced after farmer Nally jailed for fatally shooting intruder
  • Man (20) who stabbed intruder with shears cleared of murder
Martin Keenan was acquitted of murder. Photo: Collins Courts
Martin Keenan was acquitted of murder. Photo: Collins Courts

Natasha Reid and Shane Phelan

A COURT has upheld the right of a person to use reasonable force to defend themselves against a home intruder.

In a landmark decision, a Central Criminal Court jury acquitted Martin Keenan (20) of the murder of an unarmed man he stabbed to death with broken garden shears after finding him in his bedroom.

It is the first time a murder charge has been defended using the Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Act 2011, which removed an obligation on householders to retreat, and allows for the use of reasonable force against intruders.

The legislation was introduced in the wake of the Padraig Nally case, where a farmer was accused and later acquitted following two trials of the unlawful killing of a notorious criminal he found trespassing on his property.

Padraig Nally during his trial for the manslaughter of John Ward in October 2004.
Padraig Nally during his trial for the manslaughter of John Ward in October 2004.

Mr Keenan said he was frightened to find “two junkies” in his bedroom and hit Wesley Mooney (33) with half a pair of garden shears after he came running at him.

The defence relied on the act and a Court of Criminal Appeal judgment, which stated burglary was an act of aggression.

Defence counsel Séamus Clarke SC said the act specified that nothing should require the homeowner to retreat from his or her dwelling. He said that an intruder had chosen to invade a person’s home and that there was latitude to the homeowner.

“Mr Keenan didn’t go home that night looking for trouble,” he said. “Trouble was waiting for him when he got home.”

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In his closing speech, Mr Clarke had also quoted from a Court of Criminal Appeal judgment given by the late Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman: “Common knowledge will have told the homeowner that certain burglaries are committed by drug addicts, whose behaviour may be randomly vicious or wholly unpredictable.”

Mr Clarke said his client had described the man in his home as a scary-looking junkie.

The prosecution had alleged Mr Keenan’s account was contrived to justify what he’d done.

It alleged the force used had been unreasonable and there was no need or justification for the use of the weapon.

Mr Justice Paul Butler had told the jury that under the 2011 act there was a right to use reasonable force, where a person believed the other entered the dwelling as a trespasser, especially in the context of committing a crime.

“That’s certainly a reasonable belief in this case,” he said.

The judge said if they were satisfied Mr Keenan felt in danger, he was entitled to defend himself using force and if that force was not disproportionate, then he was not guilty.

Mr Keenan, a member of the Travelling community from Cardiffsbridge Avenue, Finglas, Dublin, had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Mr Mooney at St Joseph’s Park halting site, Dunsink Lane.

Wesley Mooney
Wesley Mooney

The trial was told that on June 5, 2016, Mr Mooney and his girlfriend Ciara Tynan went to Mr Keenan’s mobile home after being invited to go there by another person for a drink.

Ms Tynan said they had followed this person’s directions to the empty and unlocked mobile home and had gone into the bedroom because it was the only room with a light on.

She admitted she had handled items and opened cupboards in the living room.

She said the owner returned and told them to “Get the f*** out” and that they did so.

However, as they were leaving, the accused stuck something into her boyfriend. Mr Mooney sustained two stab wounds, one below the left armpit with a depth of 27cm that went through both lungs and sliced two blood vessels.

Mr Keenan told detectives he got a fright when he and his wife arrived home around 11.45pm to find someone in their bedroom.

“They were two junkies and I was frightened,” he said, adding the man had attacked him. “He came running at me so I picked up some kind of a tool yoke and I hit him with it.”

Mr Mooney had a range of drugs in his system. He had convictions for a burglary, threatening to kill and carrying an imitation firearm, while Ms Tynan had a conviction for robbery.

Law introduced after farmer Nally jailed for fatally shooting intruder

The Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Act 2011, used as a defence for the first time in the trial of Martin Keenan, allows people to use reasonable force if they find an intruder in their home.

It was introduced in the wake of the 2004 Padraig Nally case, which sparked a national debate about the rights of home and landowners to defend their properties.

Mayo farmer Mr Nally (inset) was charged with murder after he shot dead John ‘Frog’ Ward, a notorious criminal he found trespassing on his property.

Mr Nally hit Mr Ward 20 times with a stick and shot him twice, with the second and fatal shot fired after Mr Ward had left the farmyard.

Mr Nally was acquitted of murder but sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter in 2005. His trial heard he had been “agitated and fearful” following a spate of thefts from his property and others in the locality.
The late John 'Frog'Ward (left) pictured with his son, John, at Connaughton Road, Sligo in February 2001.

The conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal and he was cleared of manslaughter at a subsequent retrial.

In the wake of the case, rural interest groups sought clarity on the rights of a person to protect their home, amid public fears the law was on the side of intruders. Although the right of a person to defend their home had long been recognised by the courts, then justice minister Alan Shatter introduced the act to provide further clarity. The act removed an obligation on householders to retreat and allowed them to stand their ground and use reasonable force against intruders. Under the act, a jury cannot have regard to the fact a householder who comes across an intruder may have had an opportunity to retreat.

It has to consider only whether the force used in tackling the intruder was reasonable and justified.

Reasonable force was not defined in the act and it is left up to juries to decide if actions taken in a specific case were indeed reasonable.

The act states the use of such force shall not exclude the use of force causing death.

Despite saying this, the act is not considered to be a licence to kill.

Online Editors