Tuesday 26 March 2019

Bail reform too late for victims of 10,600 crimes

Mother of hit-and-run victim sues State over driver who was on bail for several offences

VICTIMS: Lucia and Jim O’Farrell, parents of hit-and-run victim Shane O’Farrell
VICTIMS: Lucia and Jim O’Farrell, parents of hit-and-run victim Shane O’Farrell
Manuela Riedo
Sylvia Roche Kelly
Nancy Nolan
Noirin Kelly-Eadon
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

After the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, wrapped up her talk at the political platform that is the MacGill summer school last week, a grieving mother tried to question her, without success, about her son's death: "I'm not going to go away, you know," she said.

The mother was Lucia O'Farrell, who drove four hours from Monaghan to the summer school in Donegal. Her son, Shane, died in a road accident caused by a hit-and -run driver who was on bail for a string of crimes.

A Trinity College student, Shane was home for the weekend and went out for a cycle when Zigimantas Gridziuska ploughed into him. Gridziuska was on bail for different offences in three different courts, one of them in Northern Ireland. On his conviction for the hit and run, the judge gave Gridziuska a choice of a jail term or returning to his native Lithuania. He chose the latter.

Mrs O'Farrell has begun legal action against An Garda Siochana, the Minister and the State over her son's death. She is suing the Minister, the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Garda Commissioner, along with Gridziuska.

The day after Ms O'Farrell tried to question her, the Minister unveiled new legislation tightening up our loose bail laws, including giving the Garda the power for the first time to arrest offenders who have breached their bail conditions, without having to first go to court to get a warrant, and requiring courts to give reasons for their bail decisions.

But it is too late for Mrs O'Farrell: "More lives no doubt will be saved, it's a pity it's too late for Shane and our family and for countless others," she said.

Last year, six people were killed or murdered and two were kidnapped by offenders on bail for other crimes, along with nine sexual offences, 329 cases of threats and harassment. The big ticket bail bandits were robbers, thieves and burglars: 2,534 thefts were carried out by people on bail for other crimes last year, as were 871 burglaries and 256 cases of robbery, extortion and hijacking.

More than 100 people have been murdered or killed by offenders out on bail for other crimes in the past 10 years, a roll call of death that families say could have been avoided if bail laws had been enforced.

Sylvia Roche Kelly (33), was one of 14 people murdered or killed by people out on bail in 2007. A mother of two children, she was murdered in a hotel room in Limerick by a man who was out on bail for two other crimes. Unknown to Ms Roche Kelly, Jerry McGrath was before the court on charges of assaulting a female taxi driver in Cavan. While on bail for that offence, he tried to abduct a child in Tipperary. He was charged with false imprisonment and freed on bail again - the judge had not been told that he was already on bail for assaulting a taxi driver. Five days later, he met Ms Roche Kelly.

Her widower, Lorcan Roche Kelly, sued the State on behalf of his two children alleging his wife's killer was "free to commit the crime of murder when he should have been in custody". The case was thrown out by the President of the High Court, who acknowledged the tragedy, but found the law at the time meant his case could not succeed.

Another notorious case is that of Gerald Barry, who was out on bail when he murdered a young Swiss student out walking in Galway in 2007. He was then 29-years-old, had been charged with assaulting his former girlfriend and was waiting to go on trial. Gardai also suspected him of raping a young French student. Detectives had arrested Barry and their investigation was still going on. When he appeared in Galway District Court in August 2007, gardai objected to bail but a judge granted it. Seven weeks later, he attacked Manuela Riedo (17), in Galway to learn English. Barry is now serving three life sentences for her rape and murder. He was later convicted of raping the French student.

Noirin Kelly-Eadon (46), was killed by a man who should have been locked up, in this case, the man was her son. Celyn Eadon (19), appeared before Castlebar District Court in February 2011. The judge remanded him in custody that morning but because of a cock-up, Celyn Eadon was allowed to walk out of the courthouse. Three weeks later, at his mother's house in Castlebar, he stabbed Noirin Kelly-Eadon to death, plunging a knife into her 19 times because she threw a bag of his drugs onto the fire in frustration. He was convicted of murder last year.

The Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission began a public interest inquiry, such was the concern about the case. The Garda watchdog found that there were different orders relating to Eadon because there were so many summonses out for him, there were 23 different summonses and a charge of theft that were being dealt with at three different district courts in Mayo. He was remanded in custody for the summonses and granted bail for the theft. Somehow, gardai got it wrong, and thought he was freed on all the issues before the court. A warrant committing him to prison was not only never executed, it actually went missing.

One of the most notorious cases involved Thomas Murray, a convicted murderer, who was allowed back into the community, not by the courts this time, but the prison authorities. On day release from a prison sentence for murder, he called to the home of his former school teacher, Nancy Nolan, who lived in Galway, and he murdered her. During the subsequent inquiries, it emerged that gardai had opposed his temporary release on a number of occasions on the grounds it would "constitute a threat to the community". Murray received a life sentence for the murder of Ms Nolan.

Daniel Martin (21), a troubled young man with a propensity to violence, and fuelled by 16 cans of beer, went on a violent rampage. He caused trouble on the Luas and later jumped into the passenger seat of a car stopped at traffic lights, slashed the driver's shoulder. After he was charged gardai asked the judge to remand him in custody but he was released on bail, and a month later attacked Wayne Donovan with a stick studded with nails, and a broken bottle in a "savage attack" that got him seven years in jail. While awaiting trial, Daniel Martin actually asked for his bail to be revoked because he could not control his anger.

Bernard Durcan, a Fine Gael TD from Kildare, who has tabled parliamentary questions about bail offenders for many years, said; "It got to the stage where the offender has achieved more rights and guarantees than the victim or the potential victim."

According to Mr Durcan, the legislation goes some way towards redressing the balance.

Sunday Independent

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