Tuesday 21 January 2020

TDs Wallace and Daly in court to support criminal Leon Wright who was cleared of assaulting a prison officer

Leon Wright
Leon Wright

Tom Tuite

A violent criminal has been cleared of assaulting a prison officer when he was searched for weapons.

Leon Wright (28) of Donore Avenue in Dublin 8 remained handcuffed and flanked by five prison staff wearing riot gear for his district court trial on Wednesday.

Wright, who claimed he was beaten by prison officers, was supported in court by Independent TDs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly who took notes of the proceedings from the public gallery.

After the defence raised questions over the credibility of prosecution witnesses and evidence, Judge Alan Mitchell said that having viewed the CCTV evidence in particular he was dismissing the case.

He also said that he was going to direct that the Court Service would prepare a copy of the digital audio recording of the hearing and that it would be offered to Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly in the event he would like to “take further action”.

“I certainly have concerns in relation to this matter,” the  judge added.

In 2014, Wright, who has 84 previous convictions, including 30 assaults, four garda assaults, robberies and firearms offences, received a six year sentence with the final two suspended for stabbing two people in random attacks.

However, in his Dublin District Court trial on Wednesday he pleaded not guilty to a charge of assaulting prison officer Michael Kerr at Wheatfield Prison in Dublin on Oct. 7, 2013. Officer Kerr alleged Wright produced an object from his back passage and stabbed him in the face cutting his lip.

He and two other prison officers said Wright became aggressive when told he was about to be searched. They denied that the defendant was beaten by several officers.

He was moved from the first cell because property was broken there and prison officers feared he had weapons, the trial was told. Witnesses alleged that Wright became more aggressive when told he was going to be searched after being initially compliant.

A nurse gave evidence that he saw lacerations inside and on the prison officer's lip and he said that from his experience it would have been caused by being cut with a sharp object.

Prosecution witnesses also said Wright lashed out. Prison officer Brian Hayes said he saw officer Kerr being struck with an object but he did not mention it in his statement to the investigating garda.

Defence counsel Emmet Nolan put it to prosecution witnesses that Wright was stripped and “given a hiding” which was denied. He asked the judge to note that CCTV footage showed four prison officers in riot gear outside the cell while four others dealt with Wright inside. He argued that it was not believable that they would remain outside the cell while their colleagues were being attacked.

The court also heard that Wright was exonerated of having a weapon or attempting to stab the prison officer during an internal investigation by the Governor.

He also asked the court to note evidence about Wright having his clothing removed for the purpose of a weapon search. He told the judge that none of the witnesses mentioned that he was bare chested when he was brought to the cell as could be seen on CCTV.

The court heard that another senior officer who had been forbidden by the prison authorities to be in the same area as Wright was present.

After Wright was cleared of the charge he gave two thumbs up to the two TDs, who had spoken to him before the trial. He was then taken out of the courtroom by prison officers.

After the hearing concluded TDs Wallace and Daly gave a brief statement to the media.

They said they believed Leon Wright's human rights had been breached and they said the case will be taken further and they also called for a full investigation in relation to his treatment.

The TDs also said it was a turning point for Leon Wright and “maybe for how things are done in prison”.

Leon Wright is regarded by both staff and management at Irish jails as Ireland's most dangerous inmate.

Although he is just 28 years of age Wright has already amassed over 84 previous convictions including robberies, 34 assaults and firearms offences.

He is serving time for a knife rampage on Dublin’s Grafton Street in 2013 while on bail for assaulting two gardaí.

But some of his most serious crimes have happened behind bars.

Wright has been disciplined over 212 times in prison. He has attacked over two dozen guards while in jail and left many with very serious injuries.

Such is the fear surrounding the inmate that only trained control and restraint officers can deal with him and they must don riot gear for any interractions.

If he is being moved at least six prison officers, dressed in protective clothing and helmets, will accompany him.

A senior source said: "Wright is one of the worst, if not the worst that the prison system has ever come across.

"Anywhere he goes he need the C&R (Control and Restraint) guys accompanying him.

"In terms of his physical aggression towards staff, it is unprecedented."

Another source said it was an insult that two TDs would offer support to Wright in court.

"Wright is a by-word in the prison system for thuggery. The threats he has made to prison officers and their families are virtually unheard of in prisons."

Wright is regularly moved around Ireland's maximum security prisons and staff have repeatedly tried to curb his violent behaviour.

He was given an aquarium on his landing in Portlaoise, a Playstation with various console games and even a washing machine.

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