Saturday 21 April 2018

Man (24) cleared of homophobic graffiti attack on George Bar due to gaps in evidence

Eoin Berkeley, pictured outside Dublin district court. Picture credit; INM
Eoin Berkeley, pictured outside Dublin district court. Picture credit; INM

Tom Tuite

A 24-year-old man has been cleared of carrying out a homophobic graffiti attack at one of Dublin’s best known gay bars.

Eoin Berkeley from Hamptonwood Way, Finglas, Dublin 11, pleaded not guilty to causing criminal damage with chalk graffiti on the facade and panels at the George Bar in the city-centre in the early hours of May 20 last year. The offence at district court level can carry a sentence of up to one year.

His trial at Cloverhill District Court heard claims Berkeley, who has been getting psychiatric and psychological treatment, was wearing a “raccoon onesie” outfit when he was arrested shortly after the graffiti attack.

Despite allegedly admitting the crime to gardai, he was granted a dismissal following a number of technical arguments made by defence solicitor Tony Collier. The lawyer contended that the case had to be thrown out due to gaps in evidence such as the lack of CCTV evidence as well as the absence of a Garda witness who authorised an interview when Berkeley allegedly owned up.

Berkeley has 23 previous convictions including weapons offences, possessing knives and a realistic imitation firearm.

Garda Lorcan Murphy of Pearse Street told the court what was written in chalk on the front of the George Bar. A swastika symbol was also drawn on the front of the bar in chalk.

After watching CCTV footage from the bar gardai had arrested Berkeley in the vicinity.

Garda Murphy said Berkeley was detained at Pearse Street Garda station under Section Four of the Criminal Justice Act and during interview he “made full admissions that it was him on the CCTV and it was him that wrote these words and images on the front of the George pub”.

An invoice for the clean-up work was furnished to the court. The bar’s general manager Darragh Flynn was called to give evidence and said he saw a swastika as well as the homophobic comments on the front of the bar after it had closed.

He said he watched the CCTV footage of the incident which showed a person in a onesie.

Defence solicitor Tony Collier argued that this witness was not the manager listed on the charge sheet as being the injured party. Judge Blake was told that the named person no longer worked there but Mr Flynn had the same rank.

Berkeley smiled throughout the hearing but did not address the court. He had been in prison on remand since July when his bail was revoked.

Garda Brian O’Carroll told the court he saw a group of males at about 7.40am at the corner of George Street and Dame Street. Berkeley “stood out like a sore thumb” and was wearing a raccoon onesie, he said.

Garda O’Carroll had already seen CCTV footage of the incident with a person in “very distinctive clothes”, the court heard.

He told Judge Victor Blake that Berkeley told him he had done the graffiti but the accused claimed it was not an offence because it was written in chalk. Garda O’Carroll said that following the arrest he was also present during the interview at Pearse Street station when Berkeley made the admissions.

The fourth prosecution witness Garda Stephen Ryan said he saw the graffiti with a Nazi symbol and a number of homophobic slurs. He said the manager had told him it had happened after the George Bar had closed and no one had permission to deface the bar.

Mr Collier pointed out to the judge that the Garda sergeant who authorised the detention for questioning of his client at Pearse St station had not come to court to give evidence. He argued that the admissions were inadmissible.

He said it left him unable to cross-examine a witness and he also pointed out that the CCTV evidence referred to was not played during the hearing.

He argued that on the charge sheet there was a different representative of the bar named as being the injured party while another employee of the bar was called to give evidence.

Overall, given the various gaps in the case it was not a sequential chain of evidence to leave the court in a position to safely convict, the solicitor submitted.

Garda Murphy explained that the sergeant who allowed the detention could not attend the hearing. The manager named on the charge sheet as the injured party no longer worked there, he said.

Dismissing the case, Judge Victor Blake said the arguments made by the defence solicitor were true and correct.

However, Berkeley was found guilty of using threatening, words or behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace during a separate incident outside a bar at Eustace Street in Dublin 2 on June 29 last year.

Berkeley’s bail had been revoked last July after he broke a court order banning him from the D2 area. Judge Blake imposed a two and a half month sentence which was back-dated to the date when he went into custody meaning his time has already been served.

Garda Paul Carroll said during that public order incident there was a strong smell of alcohol from Berkeley who had a laceration to his left cheek which had been stitched up. Garda Carroll said Berkeley stated he was a member of the INLA and that he would slit his own throat.

He had 23 prior criminal convictions and his most recent sentence was handed down by the district court in December 2016 when he was jailed for five months and three months over two offences for “possessing knives and other articles”. Public order, failing to appear in court and criminal damage charges were taken into consideration.

In 2015 he was given a nine-month sentence for “possession of a realistic imitation firearm”. Two years previously, he was fined €550 and given suspended sentences of three and four months for breach of the peace, assault and obstructing a garda.

Mr Collier asked the court to note that his client had been in care for a large part of his life and he had been seeing a psychiatrist over recent years.

The solicitor said Berkeley continued to engage with a psychologist and a psychiatrist while he was in custody and he “has come a long way”. He said that when bail was revoked last year Berkeley had been “basically catatonic at the time”.

Free legal aid was also granted earlier after the defence explained that Mr Berkeley's access to funds was limited and he had been on a disability benefit.

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News