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State asks High Court to dismiss man's damages claim over his conviction for crimes he did not commit

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The High Court, Dublin

The High Court, Dublin

The High Court, Dublin

The State has asked the High Court to dismiss a damages claim brought by Peter Pringle, over his conviction and 15 year prison term for crimes he did not commit.

Mr Pringle, whose death sentence for the murder of gardai John Morley and Henry Byrne was commuted, opposes the application and he has brought a motion to have the State discover documents related to DNA testing which he says he requires to progress his damages claim.

In his damages action, Mr Pringle claims the state was negligent and breached his constitutional rights because crucial evidence was not disclosed to him prior to his trial before the Special Criminal Court, where he was convicted of the garda murders during a bank robbery in Ballaghadreen Co Roscommon in July 1980.

Following his conviction he served 14 years and 10 months in prison, after the death sentence he received was commuted to 40 years in jail, before the Court of Criminal Appeal in 1995 found his conviction to be unsafe and unsatisfactory.

Two other men were convicted of the murders and were released from prison in 2013. Gardai had claimed Mr Pringle had fled the scene of the robbery, and he was arrested two weeks later.

On Wednesday, the State, represented by Robert Barron SC, applied to the court to have the claim, which were originated in the mid 1990s, dismissed for want of prosecution and due to inordinate delay.

The state claims that after such a length of time many of the 115 witnesses to events that took place almost 40 years ago are no longer able to recall events accurately, others are difficult to locate while some have died.

It is also alleged that Mr Pringle has failed to take steps to advance his proceedings and no explanation has been given for the delay.

Mr Pringle denies there has been delay on his part.

Any delay, he says, has been caused by the state.

Mr Pringle, with an address of Glenicmurrin Costelloe, Co Galway seeks discovery of documents relating to an analysis carried out in 2002 by the Forensic Science Service in Birmingham.

Declan McGovern SC, for Mr Pringle, said these "materials were absolutely essential to Mr Pringle's claim" as he seeks to "further demonstrate" his innocence of the crimes his client was wrongly convicted of.   

His discovery application relates to the DNA analysis on samples of hair taken from a car used in the robbery and a voluntary blood sample given by Mr Pringle in 1994.

In 2003 the state informed Mr Pringle's lawyers the analysis showed that a match had been obtained and that the match provides "strong support" for the proposition that the recovered hair originated from Mr Pringle.  

Mr Pringle says he was shocked by the results of the DNA testing and says it is a further attempt by certain persons employed by the state to  continue to frame him for crimes he did not commit.

He believes the DNA report is a means to put a stop to his damages claim.

Mr Pringle's lawyers sought sought the paperwork in connection with the DNA analysis and to the chain of custody of the samples used in the preparation of the report.  However that material has not been provided to Mr Pringle's lawyers.

The hearing, before Ms Justice Carmel Stewart, continues on Friday.

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