Gilligan's custody extended by judge
BRITISH prosecutors were yesterday granted an extension of custody limits against John Gilligan to leave open the possibility of a UK prosecution if he evades extradition.
Although Gilligan is in custody pending extradition to Dublin for the murder of Veronica Guerin, and on drugs and weapons charges, he is legally still awaiting trial in the UK on drugs and money laundering charges.
Gilligan's defence lawyers insist that he is ready and willing to face a trial immediately and that unless the Crown is prepared to go ahead the case should be dropped.
Clare Montgomery QC accused prosecutor Nigel Peters QC who is also representing the Irish government in the extradition proceedings of using the outstanding case as ``an insurance policy'' should she succeed in getting the magistrate's decision quashed.
Mr Peters said that while magistrate David Cooper had ordered his extradition earlier this week he had fifteen days from that ruling to apply to the High Court for writ of habeas corpus and/or a judicial review of the decision.
As it was clear Gilligan would be making applications to higher courts it was perfectly reasonable to seek an extension of the custody time limits which would otherwise expire today, he said.
The earliest possible High Court hearing would be between three and six months, the court heard. Realistically, Gilligan is likely to remain in UK custody for another year.
Given that Gilligan was accused of money laundering and drug trafficking on such a large international scale it was the Crown's intention to press ahead with the trial if for any reason Gilligan's appeal against extradition wassuccessful.
``If he were to succeed in any appeal in a higher court then it is very much the intention of Customs and Excise to try him for outstanding offences, but I also make it clear that if he is returned to Ireland then the Crown will seek a nolle prosequi order bringing an end to all proceedings in this country,'' he said.
When asked by the judge why he would do this rather than simply offer no evidence, Mr Peters replied it was because defence lawyers in Dublin might seek to exploit such a decision.
Clare Montgomery QC described the application as ``extraordinary'' and that if Judge Rucker acceded to the request she would like a written ruling as she would appeal it to the divisional court.
She criticised the Crown for undue delays in making evidence available on one occasion some 40 days after a court-imposed deadline and said there was no reason to believe they would act with ``due expedition''.
``I see no good reason for extending the custody limits. Mr Gilligan is willing to be tried and wishes to be tried the prosecution wish to deny him that opportunity,'' she said.
``What Mr Peters is asking for is adjournment without end ... and wants this court to act as an insurance policy in case he has slipped up in some way in respect of the extradition proceedings. (This court) is not realistically being asked to deal with this case in any real sense,'' she said.
Judge Rucker, granting the application to extend custody time limits, said it was a ``quite exceptional'' case.
Had the events in the Republic not occurred he believed Gilligan might well have had grounds for successfully arguing abuse of process in a higher court.
Instead, a ``very unusual situation'' had occurred.
Gilligan had been stopped coming through the United Kingdom in October 1996 with more than £300,000 on him. Subsequent investigations led to allegations of money laundering, he said.
Over the following months there had been considerable delay, he said.
It may well be that the Crown could be criticised for failing to comply with a court order or orders, he said in reference to complaints from the defence about non-production of evidence.
Judge Rucker said there had been a realistic prospect that the case would proceed and have been tried as fixed in September, although there would have been considerable difficulties taking evidence from witnesses in the Republic and other complicated matters.
``But during this time, mid-summer through to September, it became clearer and clearer that the Garda had evidence against Gilligan about drugs activities, activities based in Ireland and not in this country, likely to result in allegations in which evidence in this UK case would have been admitted.
``They also had evidence of extremely serious murder allegations, that he was responsible for the contract killing of a journalist investigating the Dublin underworld,'' he said.
Since then extradition proceedings had successfully taken place and a situation had been reached in which the Crown was content to let the Irish authorities take over, he said.
He said the Crown could not be accused of ``bad faith'' in this and there was no reason to doubt the Crown's undertaking about future conduct depending on what happens in the extradition case.
Looking to the future of this case he felt that if it were to be tried in London it was not one in which a further delay would prejudice the defence or give an unfair advantage to the Crown.
``I understand the frustration and concern at the most unenviable position of Mr Gilligan who (should the proceedings against him succeed) will be in custody for a very, very long time indeed,'' he said.
But Gilligan's decision to ``fight every inch of the way had more to do with (delays) than anything else,'' he said.