Tuesday 20 August 2019

Civil servant given 11-month sentence for disclosing information about arrest of suspect in dissident republican murder case

Jonathan Lennon (35) PIC: Collins Courts
Jonathan Lennon (35) PIC: Collins Courts

Tom Tuite

A CIVIL servant in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has been been given an 11-month sentence for disclosing sensitive information about the arrest of a suspect in a dissident republican murder case.

Service officer Jonathan Lennon, 35, from Clonee, Dublin 15, who admitted having a “nosey” in the Peter Butterly murder file, was jailed today, however, he was released within minutes after lodging a notice of appeal.

He had pleaded not guilty to breaking the Official Secrets Act in connection with criminal proceedings resulting from the 2013 murder of the dissident republican Butterly during an internal feud in the IRA.

Lennon, a married father-of-three, who has been suspended from work pending his trial, was accused of four counts of disclosing information without authorisation to three named men about the arrest of a suspect, on September 7, 2017 and the following day.

He was convicted by Judge John Hughes following his eight-day non-jury trial, at Dublin District Court last month.

He returned to court today for sentencing. Judge Hughes imposed consecutive sentences totalling 11-months with the final month suspended.

He said he had to take into account the breach of trust and the reputational damage to the offices of the DPP.

Appeal bail in Lennon's own bond of €1,000 was set by the court and was taken up minutes after the jail term was handed down.

This means Lennon, who remained silent throughout his hearing, will challenge the outcome of the case in the Circuit Court on a later date.

Pleading for leniency, Seamus Clark SC, defending, asked Judge Hughes to take into account that it was a case of “loose lips” from temptation rather than a plan to actively gather information.

Lennon was a staunch republican but that was not a crime, counsel said. He knew others who were also republican and who had gone further but he was not well disposed to the person who benefited from the leaked information.

Mr Clarke told the court his client suffered from anxiety following the death of his parents in 2008 and 2013 after which he was prescribed medication.

He had previously worked as a plumber, then did security work which led to him meeting one of the people he had contacted with information. He later got work in the Department of Defence before taking up a job in the DPP’s office. References were handed in to court.

The case had a placed a strain on his family life and will affect his employment, counsel said.

Convicting Lennon, Judge Hughes had said he had carefully considered prosecution and defence submissions about circumstantial evidence. He also noted the 34 exhibits, CCTV evidence, voluminous text messages, items seized from Lennon’s home and car, eight memos of interviews with Lennon and the evidence of 20 State witnesses.

The case followed an investigation by the Garda Special Detective Unit.

Lennon did not give evidence in his trial. The offence can carry a six-month sentence and a €127 fine per charge.

The trial heard one of the people Lennon had contacted and bought Irish Republican Prisoner Welfare Association badges from on September 7 was Damien Metcalfe.

Metcalfe, 33, with an address at Blackditch Road, Ballyfermot, Dublin, was jailed for two years and six months, last week, after he was convicted by the Special Criminal Court of IRA membership on a date in 2015.

Four other men are serving life sentences for the murder of Peter Butterly.

Lennon was investigated for leaking information after a suspect was arrested on September 8, 2017. Gardai believed the man had been tipped off beforehand because he was up, dressed and waiting for gardai when they came to his home in the early hours of the morning. His phone was also missing.

Mr Lennon was not well disposed to the suspect as a result of an unpaid €1500 loan, the district court trial was told.

Michael Delaney SC, prosecuting, asked the court to note the evidence of texts messages on September 7. On that date Mr Lennon sent messages about mentioning, revenge, Karma, and “good news”.

A letter about the Butterly case in the DPP's office had been drafted by a solicitor earlier that day.

He also sent one message about and having something “better” to give Metcalfe during a meeting with him in a graveyard in which he bought the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association badges.

Mr Lennon had admitted to gardai that he had a look in the case file. His messages over the two-day period contained details that were had not been made public, the court was told.

A solicitor in the DPP’s office, who prepared a letter to a senior counsel about the Butterly case, had said Lennon was among the staff collecting letters for dispatch that day.

CCTV evidence of his movements in work and footage of him looking at a letter before putting it away as his supervisor approached was shown during the trial.

Mr Seamus Clarke SC, for the defence, said the court must consider that the meeting in a graveyard was to buy badges and had been pre-arranged.

Discussions with another man via text messages the following day contained information that was no longer confidential as the suspect had appeared in court and it was in the media.

He said the court had to consider his client was waffling and spoofing.

The prosecution contended Lennon used phrases from the file such as “lured” to describe the murder of Butterly. The defence asked the judge to note that was already used in earlier newspaper reports about the fatal shooting.

The trial had heard that during a Garda interview he was asked about references he made to two men, who were later arrested. Mr Lennon told gardai, “If I had given them such information why did they not go on the run?”.

He claimed several members of staff in the DPP’s building had read files of cases and he was following suit but he had raised security concerns at work.

He disagreed that CCTV evidence showed him looking in the Butterly file and putting an envelope away as his supervisor approached. He said that was a coincidence and it could have been a personal letter that get sent to staff.

He denied ingratiating himself with the State solicitor who had prepared the Butterly case file.

The court heard he did not like one of the suspects who owed him money. Mr Lennon grew up in Corduff area of Blanchardstown and from playing football he knew the suspect.

A search of Mr Lennon’s home under warrant took place in September 2018. Various items and memorabilia recovered there suggested the service officer “had republican sympathies”, however, when questioned he claimed it was out of an interest in political history.

Mr Lennon, who did not testify in the trial, had told investigating gardai he only spoke about matters already in the public domain.

He admitted to gardai he he read files about people or incidents known to him. He would have a quick read and put it away, “nothing sinister”. “If there was a file, I would pick it up and have a flick for pictures….proper nosey stuff,” he said.

He had taken photos of files if they shared the name of other people known to him.

The civil servant also saw some of the Butterly file but claimed he only read the introduction. He told one interviewing detective, “I had peek at a few pages”.

Mr Lennon began working in the DPP's office on January 3, 2017 and it was his role to collect, deliver and circulate files in the building. As a civil servant he signed the Offical Secrets Act.

Dissident republican Butterly was shot dead in view of students waiting for their school bus on the afternoon of March 6, 2013 outside The Huntsman Inn, Gormanston, Co Meath. Some men had been convicted of the murder and others of firearms offences or IRA membership.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News