Tuesday 19 February 2019

'I'm very sorry for taking your son's life', Brian Rattigan tells mother of man he stabbed to death

Rattigan will be sentenced at the end of January

Brian Rattigan
Brian Rattigan
Brian Rattigan
Andrew Phelan

Andrew Phelan

KILLER Brian Rattigan has told the mother of a man he stabbed to death more than 17 years ago: “I am very sorry for taking your son’s life.”

The gangland criminal’s letter of apology for killing Declan Gavin was read out at his sentence hearing after he pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

“May Declan rest in peace and may God protect him,” Rattigan said.

However, Mr Gavin’s sister told the Central Criminal Court the timing of Rattigan’s apology seemed “too convenient.”

In a victim impact statement, Tara Gavin said her world was “turned upside down” by the her brother's death and after nearly 18 years the “loss and sadness doesn’t disappear.”

Her mother Pauline Gavin had not read Rattigan’s apology and felt it came “too late,” the court heard.

Mr Justice Michael White said he would impose sentence on January 24.

Rattigan stabbed Mr Gavin (20) in the heart with a knife outside a takeaway, then tried to follow him inside as he fled, fatally wounded.

Rattigan, now aged 38, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Mr Gavin outside Abrakebabra at the Crumlin Shopping Centre on August 25, 2001.

Mr Gavin’s killing sparked the infamous Crumlin-Drimnagh feud, which claimed 16 lives over the course of 10 years.

Rattigan, of Cooley Road, Drimnagh, had previously gone on trial for murdering Mr Gavin and was found guilty in 2009 but that conviction was successfully appealed last year.

His plea last October to the lesser charge was accepted by the State and Rattigan has remained in custody.

This afternoon, Pauline Walley SC, prosecuting, led the senior investigating officer Chief Supt Brian Sutton through his evidence.

He said Mr Gavin was out socialising with friends in the early hours of August 25. At around 3am, a gold Nissan Micra pulled up outside the shopping centre with four people inside.

Witnesses heard shouting of “rat, where is he?” and “rat.” A man - Rattigan -was seen getting out, wearing a balaclava that was not fully on his head.

He was carrying a large knife in his right hand. He or other people shouted and Rattigan pulled down the balaclava and ran towards Mr Gavin.

He attacked Mr Gavin and cut his hand. Mr Gavin ran and “a lot of people scattered,” the court heard.

Mr Gavin, injured and bleeding, was retreating back down steps to Abrakebabra when he was stabbed a second time - a fatal injury to the chest area. He was bleeding profusely and there was a “stream of blood.”

The Abrakebabra had been closed when others ran back to it, and Mr Gavin tried to get in. The security man let him in when he saw the distress he was in and closed the door behind him.

Mr Gavin said “I’ve been stabbed, I’ve been stabbed.”

Rattigan tried to get in but the security man held the door against him and Mr Gavin went into the back of the restaurant where he collapsed.

A number of people tended to Mr Gavin, who was “visibly seriously injured” and bleeding on the restaurant floor.

Others attacked Rattigan with golf clubs and he retreated to the car which was driven away.

In interview, a number of witnesses said the knifeman had been at the door, trying to get in. The court heard this was of “central significance” in the case because Rattigan’s palm  and fingerprints were found on the glass, beside Mr Gavin’s blood.

The window had been cleaned three days before the killing and the door had been replaced a month before.

Mr Gavin was taken to St James’s hospital where “great efforts were made to save him,” but he was pronounced dead at around 5.30am.

Over 300 statements were taken in the subsequent investigation, which Chief Supt Sutton agreed was a “difficult” one.

A number of people were found not to be co-operating or obstructing justice and 22 were arrested for withholding information.

Rattigan was arrested on September 4, 2001.

In interview, he denied being at the scene on the night and maintained that position. He told gardai he had not been at the restaurant for months and he “wouldn’t eat that shite.”

When asked what he was “with a married woman all the last few weeks” and “I was banging the hole off her all night, that was why I was missing.”

He gave no name and said “she is 40 years of age and she likes a bit of young.”

“I won’t admit - yous prove it, that is your job,” he told gardai in interview.

When he was told his fingerprints were at the scene, he suggested the gardai had planted them there.

When later arrested in November 2001 in relation to another allegation, he said “I was riding a married woman, I won’t tell you who she is, I don’t want to get her into trouble.”

Asked again about Abrakebabra, he said: “I wasn’t near the place,” and had not been there for about four months.

A post mortem examination found Mr Gavin had died from shock and blood loss due to a single stab wound to the heart. Then-State Pathologist Prof John Harbison found a superficial wound to the deceased’s right index finger may have been defensive as he tried to grab the knife.

Chief Supt Sutton then outlined the “complex” investigation, two previous trials, appeals and other court proceedings that came before Rattigan’s plea last October.

The court heard most of the witnesses were associated with the Crumlin-Drimnagh area.

In the second trial, a key piece of evidence relied on by the prosecution was a statement by David Byrne, who had been a friend of both Rattigan and Mr Gavin. Mr Byrne was later murdered in the Regency Hotel shooting.

Chief Supt Sutton said David Byrne had described the man with balaclava wielding a “big silver knife” and “screaming something at Declan.”

Mr Gavin had got a burger and chips in Abrakebabra, was eating them and chatting and was “in good form” before the attack.

Ms Walley said there were “exceptional features” of the case which led to the prosecution accepting the accused’s manslaughter plea, including difficulties getting witnesses to testify and the passage of time.

When it was discussed with the Gavin family, they were distressed initially but came to acknowledge the reasons the DPP made the decision and agreed it was the correct course of action.

The court heard Rattigan had previous convictions for assault, violent disorder, firearms offences and sale or supply of drugs.

Brendan Grehan SC, defending, said a witness had described the knifeman as being “out of his head.”

Chief Supt Sutton agreed that a number of people with “different allegiances” had converged on one spot after house parties in the area and there was “tension.”

The court heard at one point before he was charged, Rattigan had told gardai: “it’s not murder.”

Mr Gavin’s sister Tara Gavin read out a victim impact statement, saying she did not think there were many people who had the opportunity to say how they felt about the impact of their brother’s death nearly 18 years later.

“The loss and sadness doesn’t disappear,” she said.

“Declan was my little brother,” she said. “Even after all these years I can’t begin to describe how close we were.”

His “amazing sense of humour” was what she would miss most about him.

The “happiness was taken from our home” and was replaced by “sudden sense of sadness”, she continued.

She said her “world was turned upside down” and what happened was “soul destroying.”

“The manner in which Declan died and the events that followed are things I can’t bear to think about,” Ms Gavin said.

The trials and the “lack of respect” shown “added insult to our pain,” her statement continued, before referring to Rattigan’s short letter of apology.

“After so many years listening to ‘I didn’t kill Declan,’ it seems the timing of this apology is a little too convenient,” she said.

“We have waited nearly 18 years to hear what we knew 24 hours after Declan’s death - that Brian Rattigan is responsible for the manslaughter of my brother.”

Governor of Portlaoise Prison John Farrell said Rattigan and was serving a 17 year sentence imposed in 2013 for controlling the possession of drugs for sale or supply from “within the prison walls.”

This was backdated to 2008 and the expiration date was May 2025 but allowing for remission, Rattigan was due for release in November 2019.

Mr Grehan read out Rattigan’s letter of apology to the victim’s mother.

“Dear Mrs Gavin,” it began. “I would like to apologise to you and your family for the events that led to the death of your son. Nothing I can say can change how you feel. I am very sorry for taking your son’s life. I’ve regretted that night in silence ever since.

As I get older it doesn’t get any easier.

“I sincerely mean that. I’m terribly sorry. I hope you can find peace now. I hope that after over 17 years it will be over and you will have closure. May Declan rest in peace and may God protect him.”

Mr Grehan read out testimonials about Rattigan’s educational achievements, anger management counselling and other activities in prison, where he had been found “very courteous and co-operative.”

Rattigan had taken part in Christmas pantomimes including the prison’s 2011 production of Cinderella, in which he played a main supporting role. In 2012, he got a certificate of achievement for his part in the Wizard of Oz.

Rattigan had been proactive in offering a plea of guilty to manslaughter, Mr Grehan said. He “very much regretted” Mr Gavin’s death.

The court heard Rattigan had been in custody since February 15, 2003 and had served 22 years of combined sentences. He had now spent most of his adult life in prison and Mr Grehan asked the judge to have regard to the totality of time in custody.

There was no obligation on the court to impose a consecutive sentence and it had discretion.

He said on the night, quite a number of people had gathered and Rattigan was “hyped and out of it.” It was single stab wound and it was “unplanned.”

He had a lot of drink and consumed “a lot of cocaine” when he got involved.

Mr Justice White adjourned sentencing.

Rattigan, wearing glasses and dressed in a light grey suit, white shirt and navy tie said “thank you, your honour,” before being led away.

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