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Tuesday 20 March 2018

Mobile phone records not given to Alan Wilson jury

Dumitru and Marioara Rostas, parents of murdered Romanian girl Marioara
Dumitru and Marioara Rostas, parents of murdered Romanian girl Marioara
The body of Marioara Rostas (inset) being removed from the Dublin Mountains in 2012
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Key mobile phone evidence was withheld from the jury in the Marioara Rostas murder trial as a result of a European court ruling that could have serious implications for future criminal trials here.

The records identified the Irish mobile phone number from which the Roma teenager used to called her brother in Romania the day after she was abducted from a city centre street in January 2008.

The phone's call history showed the same number was used to call a relative of Alan Wilson, the convicted criminal who was found not guilty last week of Marioara's murder.

The records also suggest that Marioara was taken to Clontarf after she was abducted, as the phone's signal pinged off a Clontarf mast at the time she phoned her brother.

The mobile phone records were included in the book of evidence and were to be introduced as evidence before the jury in Wilson's trial, and eight expert witnesses were due to testify. Sources said the phone evidence was not presented because of concerns raised by a recent European Court of Justice ruling which posed questions over convictions secured on mobile phone evidence.

The ruling, in April, declared a directive requiring phone and internet providers to keep customers' communications records for up to two years was "invalid" since the time it was introduced in 2006.

Marioara Rostas went missing as she was begging for money with her younger brother on Lombard St in Dublin 2. The prosecution argued that she got into Alan Wilson's car, was abducted, brought to his sister's house in Brabazon Street in Dublin 8, where she was shot four times in the head. The case presented to the jury rested almost solely on the evidence of Fergus O'Hanlon, a convicted criminal who said he saw Marioara's dead body at Wilson's sister's house on Brabazon Street, and helped Wilson to bury her body in the Dublin Mountains.

Wilson's defence counsel said O'Hanlon was a "compulsive liar" and the judge told jurors it would be dangerous to convict on the basis of O'Hanlon's uncorroborated evidence.

The court was told that Marioara had phoned her brother, Alexandru, in Romania the day after she disappeared. Alexandru testified that she was crying and frightened, saying she was out of town and repeatedly asked "for her Daddy to come get her."

Gardai obtained the records from Alexandru's phone for the period of her abduction, with the help of Interpol but they were not disclosed in court. Informed sources said the records showed several calls from Ireland which gardai traced to her family in Ireland. But one 085 number for a ready-to-go phone remained unaccounted for. Gardai believed this was the phone Marioara used to call her brother.

The phone's call history led detectives to suspect that the phone was linked to Alan Wilson. They found that calls to Morioara's brother and to Alan Wilson's relative had been made from the same mobile phone number, around the time of her abduction.

Gardai also tracked the phone signal's movement across phone masts. At approximately 12.30pm on Sunday, January 6, 2008, the signal "pinged" off a mast in the area around Cumberland House, on Fenian Street in Dublin 2, close to Lombard Street.

That evening, the phone's signal pinged off a mast in Clontarf, and again at noon on Monday. At around 3pm on Monday, the phone still "pinged" to the Clontarf mast when it called Alexandru's number in Romania - and he has confirmed that Marioara called him at this time. The call lasted a few minutes before going dead.

Roughly 20 minutes later, the phone signal began moving away from Clontarf. The signal was tracked through masts at Chapelizod, Ballyfermot, and the Longmile Road in Crumlin, then Dublin 8, which is the post code for Brabazon Street.

There was no phone signal from around 8pm Monday night until 2am on Tuesday morning, when it was either switched off or no calls were made from it.

The European Court of Justice ruling followed a challenge taken by Digital Rights Ireland, who claimed that the directive was a fundamental breach to the right to privacy. The European Court of Justice upheld their complaint, which could mean that new laws are required to cover data retention by mobile and internet providers.

Phone and internet records have become increasingly important in securing criminal convictions, particularly in relation to child pornography cases. A Department of Justice spokesperson said the implications of the European court's decision are "under consideration".

Sunday Independent

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