Sunday 19 November 2017

Gilligan having a laugh in court at taxpayers' expense

The bill for John Gilligan's long-running mobile phone case is adding up, writes John Whelan

IT SHOULD have taken minutes, an hour at most, but now a court case over a mobile phone has turned into a farce which has lasted for over 18 months with no end in sight.

The cost to the taxpayer for the prosecution of convicted drug dealer John Gilligan, accused of having a mobile phone in Cell 17 of E Block in Portlaoise Prison in July 2008, will be tens of thousands of euro and the metre is still running.

Gilligan, who cuts a cocky figure in court, continues to taunt witnesses, habitually accuses them of lying and has even asked presiding Judge Gerard Haughton to remove himself from the case, accusing him of bias.

The authorities are now seriously concerned that Gilligan is showboating and using the case to try to ridicule the prison authorities and to put propaganda and claims of being stitched up into the public domain.

The district court case has taken on a life of its own, spinning out of the control of the authorities with Gilligan gleefully dragging it out for all it's worth. The case is now scheduled to resume on March 11, with March 29 also set aside for a further hearing and cross-examining of witnesses. And it won't end there.

"It will make for an interesting Dail question sometime in the future as to exactly how much this case has cost the State," suggests one legal source familiar with the rigmarole surrounding the Gilligan mobile phone saga.

"It should never have got to court in the first place. All these things should be dealt with internally by the prison with clear sanctions of loss of remission, privileges and segregation for having contraband or phones. That's what the prison authorities want and it would be better all round," the source asserts.

"I've been on murder trials that didn't cost as much or last as long," complains one garda, signalling the gardai's frustration over this marathon mobile phone trial.

"The whole thing is a bloody joke, sure. He's just having a laugh and is turning the whole thing into a circus," says another officer.

And as if to prove the point, when the case resumed last week, John Gilligan attempted to crack the whip and have prison governor Edward Whelan jump through hoops in a series of tense exchanges as the prisoner cross-examined and repeatedly accused the governor of lying.

Now Gilligan the ringleader thinks he's the ringmaster as he lugs his legal files around in a Dunne's Stores 'Better Value Beats Them All' bag.

The prison itself, it seems, was more like a zoo than a circus at one time as John Gilligan maintained that the inmates were not just tolerated but facilitated in having budgies, parrots, cockatoos, fridges and plasma screens and even allowed to have mobile phones in their cells.

But for now the Gilligan case before the district court trundles on and on. Evidence in the trial suggests that mobile phones are rife throughout the prison system with dozens discovered in searches annually. They are more sought after by inmates than drugs as a means of keeping in touch with their associates and their activities on the outside.

Earlier this month a Limerick-based prison officer, Thomas Corry, 52, from Scariff was sentenced to five years in prison for attempting to smuggle drugs and 31 mobile phones, 34 charges, 22 Bluetooth headsets and seven sim cards into the prison on Roxboro Road. A respected member of the community, Corry was nine months short of 30 years' service.

In the case against Gilligan, State Solicitor Donal Dunne contends that in one 48-hour period in July 2008, there was a constant stream of traffic from the phone taken from his cell. The prosecution maintains that Gilligan made as many as 181 calls and texts to named cronies, women and men, in Tallaght, Ballymun, Ballyfermot, Lucan and Swords.

Last week, as one of the many facilities made available to Gilligan to defend himself, Judge Haughton granted him permission to enter his two-hour interview with gardai investigating the case as evidence. Video equipment and a 42-inch plasma television screen were then ordered and installed in the court by Mongey Communications technicians. As the case dragged on, the television was never even turned on, as this element of the evidence was left to another day. Cue plasma screen for sometime in March. The metre is still running.

Gilligan's arrival in court is heralded by sirens, the street closed off as he is surrounded by dozens of prison officers, gardai, armed detectives and soldiers in battle fatigues.

John Gilligan has been in prison for more than 10 years and in latter times has tried to present himself as a model inmate after previous episodes where he ended up back before the courts for threatening to kill two prison officers and their families. Prison authorities indicate that he could be back on the streets in less than three years.

These days he seems bizarrely chummy with some prison officers, chatting and joking with them and on first name terms. Cross -examining prison officers in the witness box, Gilligan sometimes appeared ever so nice as he called on each in turn to confirm that he was always of good behaviour, courteous and respectful. To a man, they agreed he was mannerly and made no problem for them.

"Sure, over the last six years I've been a very, very good boy," remarked a seemingly chuffed Gilligan to the amusement of the court which is full of people in uniform.

But this trial is far from a laughing matter. There is a great deal at stake. Gilligan sees a chink of light at the end of the tunnel with his release date in sight. He needs to find a chink in the State's case on this mobile phone charge as it could potentially tag on a further five years to his time in jail, if the penalty is applied consecutively. At the rate this trial is progressing, Gilligan will be due for release before the trial is concluded.

The gist of the State's case in this instance is that on the night of July 29, 2008, prison officer Martin Dunne overheard John Gilligan having a muffled conversation in Cell 17 in E wing, which had its spy hole blocked. He reported his suspicions to his superiors and the next morning, shortly after 8am, a search party was sent to remove Gilligan from his cell and to look for contraband. In two separate searches by Chief Officer Tom Dunne, ACOs Crowley and Gary Chisolm, and officers Leslie Sides, Damian Ging and Jim Fortune, they found a Nokia mobile phone hidden in cling film in a bin, a phone charger, a makeshift phone charger head, a Meteor sim card, a syringe barrel, eight and a half blue tablets and two pairs of ladies' G-string panties.

The mind boggles.

In his defence, John Gilligan is challenging the credibility of the State's witnesses, the continuity, consistency and veracity of evidence, as one of the key evidence bags containing the mobile phone was wrongly labelled, July 28, 2008, when it was secured in the safe in the Chief's office. He alleges victimisation, intimidation and double jeopardy as he has already been disciplined within the prison for having the contraband.

"The problem is that as soon as it's over in the district court, if he loses, he'll just go straight across to the circuit court and start all over again, why wouldn't he? He's nothing to lose and nothing else to do. It's complete madness," observes one Garda source. And the metre is still running.

Sunday Independent

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