Sunday 25 August 2019

Court of Appeal reserves judgment on Brian Meehan's bid to have conviction for murdering Veronica Guerin declared a miscarriage of justice

Brian Meehan
Brian Meehan
Veronica Guerin. Photo: Brian Farrell

Ruaidhrí Giblin

The Court of Appeal has reserved judgment on Brian Meehan's bid to have his conviction for murdering journalist Veronica Guerin declared a miscarriage of justice.

Meehan (47), from Crumlin in Dublin, is serving a life sentence in Portlaoise prison having being convicted by the non-jury Special Criminal Court in July 1999 of the murder of Ms Guerin in June 1996 following a 31-day-trial. He was also jailed on drugs and firearms charges.

Veronica Guerin. Photo: Brian Farrell
Veronica Guerin. Photo: Brian Farrell

Meehan has applied to quash his 1999 murder conviction on the basis of alleged new or newly discovered facts.

The new evidence concerns matters which emerged in the course of the 2001 Special Criminal Court trial of John Gilligan at the close of which Mr Gilligan was ultimately acquitted of Ms Guerin's murder.

Counsel for Meehan, Hugh Hartnett SC, told the Court of Appeal yesterday that the Special Criminal Court which tried his client relied entirely on the evidence of an “admitted accomplice” and protected witness, Russell Warren.

The court recognised that a statement of Ms Marion Finnegan, who said she saw someone standing on the steps of Naas courthouse on the date in question, strongly supported Mr Warren's account.

However, it emerged “out of the blue” on foot of enquiries from the Special Criminal Court at the end of Mr Gilligan's trial that Mr Warren had been put on an identification parade in front of Ms Finnegan shortly after the shooting and she had not identified him.

Her failure to identify him on the line-up was unknown to the defence, unknown to the court and presumably, Mr Hartnett said, unknown to the prosecution because if they had known about it they would have been professionaly bound to put if before the court.

Mr Hartnett submitted that this was a new fact and “classicly so”.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Paul Anthony McDermott SC, told the Court of Appeal this morning that Meehan's application was an “abuse of process”.

Mr McDermott said Veronica Guerin was shot 20 years ago, Meehan was convicted of her murder 16 years ago and his appeal was rejected over nine years ago.

He asked whether Irish criminal law ever had an end point or did it expand limitlessly.

Mr McDermott asked what a person from another country would think upon seeing this case in court on this date.

Had there been a cold case review, they might wonder, had some piece of DNA evidence come to light or had someone made a deathbed confession, Mr McDermott asked, only for them to be told that it was an application under section 2 of the Criminal Procedure Act based on nothing new since the criminal trial and nothing new since the appeal.

He said the interpretation Meehan was seeking to put on section 2 would ensure finality could never be brought to criminal proceedings.

The thesis as to why Meehan's bid fell under section 2 of the Criminal Procedure Act was that at the first trial evidence wasn't appreciated, counsel said.

It became a “non-appreciation application” out of necessity because that's all that was left to him, Mr McDermott said.

The thesis seemed to be that the outcome of the Gilligan trial showed some of the disclosure was more important than Meehan's lawyers realised at the time.

He said Meehan was asking the Court of Appeal to become a “roving truth and reconcilliation commission” which, in looking for justice, departs from everything that happened.

He said conduct in relation to legal advice must have consequences because if it didn't, an accused could have as many days out in court as legal teams could be found to say 'we think this evidence should have beeen deployed', Mr McDermott said.

The piece of information the court was missing was the precise instructions Meehan gave to his lawyers for his appeal, he said.

Responding, Mr Hartnett said the DPP were avoiding the fact that the original trial court did not know about the failed identification parade.

That most primary fact, which was of “huge significance”, had been ignored by the DPP's lawyers in their submissions, he said.

Ms Finnegan viewed Mr Warren in an indentification parade and she was not able to say who he this man was, Mr Hartnett said.

If Meehan's lawyers in the original trial knew about the failed identification, why would they not use that material, Mr Hartnett asked.

He said counsel for the DPP wished to airbrush that out of the case and did not face up to Meehan's primary complaint.

Mr Hartnett said the time that had passed was irrelevant. If there was a glimmer of unfairness in a trial then it did not matter when the Court of Appeal looked at it.

Mr Justice George Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Edwards, said the court would reserve judgment

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