Saturday 26 May 2018

Man 'had pitchfork' when gardai turned up at his home with a warrant

Gardai File Picture
Gardai File Picture

Ruaidhrí Giblin

A man who was “present with a pitchfork” when gardaí arrived at his dwelling with a warrant has had an appeal against conviction dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

Noel Smith (53), of Manomolin, Gorey Co Wexford, had pleaded not guilty at Wicklow Circuit Criminal Court to harassment, making an unwarranted demand with menaces and money laundering between April and June 2009.

He was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to nine years imprisonment with the final three suspended by Judge Gerard Giffin on April 7, 2014.

The prosecution's case was that a named individual got drugs from Noel Smith fifteen or so times.

Barrister Paul Murray, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, had told the Court of Appeal that the named individual said he had come under pressure from Smith to pay for those drugs and in the summer of 2008 he went to his mother to get money from her.

Mr Murray said the named individual went into rehab in March 2009 for over a year and he had no access to the outside world. His relative gave evidence that she began receiving threatening phone calls from Smith, Mr Murray said.

Giving judgment, Mr Justice George Birmingham said that unless Smyth was a drug dealer, he would have no reason to threaten the injured party or make demands of her.

It was inevitable that the jury were going to have to hear some evidence in relation to Smyth's criminal activities over and above those with which he was specifically charged, despite submission to the contrary by his barrister, Remy Farrell SC.

The fact that there was this background to the case, meant the usual practice whereby a jury hears nothing about an accused's previous character “was never going to apply in the ordinary way,” Mr Justice Birmingham said.

Another issue arose in relation to the fact that a hoax bomb device had been found under the mother-of-three's car in June 2009.

The prosecution did not attempt to prove Smyth placed that device, their interest lay in the fact that references to bombs were made in phone calls, but a prosecution witness had said in evidence that Smyth placed it there, the judgment stated.

An application to discharge the jury was “properly refused” by the trial judge, Mr Justice Birmingham said.

A number of other grounds of appeal including matters related to telephone records and search warrants were also dismissed by the court.

Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice John Edwards, said the court found the overall trial satisfactory and Smyth's conviction safe.

It was a lengthy and somewhat unusual case. At one stage the trial judge spoke of “dancing on eggshells” and the case was handled with “particular skill and indeed patience” by him, Mr Justice Birmingham said.

Counsel for Smith, Remy Farrell SC, who appeared along with Edmund Sweetman BL, had told the Court of Appeal that when the gardaí arrived at Mr Smith's dwelling with a warrant, he was “present with a pitchfork”.

It could be inferred that Smith was not consenting to further entry without a warrant, Mr Farrell said.

Three weeks before the trial the retired garda officer penned a statement of “dual purpose” asserting that he had a “section 6” power to arrest but the officer didn't assert or invoke the relative statutory power at the time, Mr Farrell said.

Mr Farrell said the detective sergeant was keen to point out at trial that Mr Smith was free to come and go for an hour but that fact was entirely impossible to reconcile with the intent to arrest,

It was a legal confection, Mr Farrell said, manufactured after the event.

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