The prospect of Graham Dwyer’s release from prison on a legal technicality could seriously undermine the State’s ability to protect the public in future.
On Monday Ireland’s most infamous sex killer, currently serving a life sentence for the murder of vulnerable child care worker Elaine O’Hara, found himself at the centre of a high-stakes legal battle.
The case concerns the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) previous ruling that under EU law there are strict limits placed on the retention and use of personal data by the police.
In an unprecedented move, lawyers representing 13 other member states and the European Commission supported the Irish challenge to the court’s findings.
The Irish Attorney General Paul Gallagher led the charge in warning that the legal restrictions could have catastrophic consequences for the investigation of serious crime across the EU.
The unprecedented multinational effort to convince the court to review its position came about after the High Court in Dublin ruled that the State breached EU law by using Dwyer’s phone data to convict him.
The data includes 2,600 text messages which Dwyer exchanged with his victim on two unregistered mobile phones. The phones were used by Dwyer over a 17-month period up to the day of Elaine O’Hara’s murder in August, 2012.
The often obscene and grotesque content of the texts was central to the State’s case against Dwyer, who thought he had carried out the “perfect murder”. It provided the chilling narrative of how the former architect had stalked, manipulated and groomed a troubled young woman.
The garda investigation was an example of top class police work which earned the officers involved universal admiration and praise.
Detectives identified Dwyer from personal details contained in the text messages — facts about his life which were corroborated both independently and by the killer himself when he was questioned.
Apart from the texts, in which Dwyer repeatedly talked about committing murder and inflicting stab wounds on his ‘slave’, the data also tracked his movements at crucial times.
Cell site analysis showed that wherever Dwyer’s official phone went within the country it was shadowed by the unregistered phones being used by the ‘master’.
It built a wall of evidence against him which was reflected in the jury’s unanimous verdict of murder. His lawyers have argued that Dwyer’s phones had been used as “personal tracking devices” and the gathering of the data breached his rights.
They told the ECJ that the data was accessed before their client was identified as a suspect, which they said amounts to indiscriminate retention of his data.
But lawyer Tanguy Stéhelin, who represented the French government, pointed to the fact that the Dwyer case showed the “tragic consequences” that tighter restrictions could have by hobbling police investigating serious crime and national security matters.
He said that a judgment that favoured Dwyer’s argument could undermine public confidence in the justice system and the authority of the court. The ECJ’s decision is expected in the next few months.
In the meantime the other victims of Dwyer’s appalling crime – the O’Hara family and his former wife – will have a nervous wait.
Both parties want to see him remain behind bars and are understandably deeply concerned by any prospect, no matter how slim, that he may be released.
The judgment will be referred back to the Irish Supreme Court to assess what implications it might hold for Dwyer’s case.
Dwyer’s trial for the murder of Elaine O’Hara stands out as probably the most harrowing and grotesque drama ever to unfold in an Irish court room. In the words of Seán Guerin who prosecuted the case – and was part of the Irish legal team this week – it was “almost the perfect murder” and she was “almost the perfect victim”.
Was it not for an extraordinary confluence of events involving a long hot summer, a curious angler, an inquisitive dog and a diligent garda we would never have known about the monster that lay hidden in what his victim’s father aptly described as Dwyer’s “depraved and diseased mind”.
To the casual observer Dwyer was the quintessential Mr Average: a successful architect and family man living a comfortable life in upmarket suburbia. A proverbial twig in the forest.
But on the other side of his dual existence, he was a predator.
Elaine was ideal for his nefarious purpose: a vulnerable, fragile woman whose life had been blighted by depression and anxiety.
Her mental health issues first manifested as self-harm which escalated to a number of suicide attempts followed by long periods in a psychiatric hospital.
Somewhere along the way she was drawn into the twilight world of sexual fetishism.
She joined BDSM websites where she interacted with others who shared similar interests. Dwyer took full advantage. He played with her like a cat with a mouse.
His sordid predilection was more extreme than BDSM – he derived sexual gratification by stabbing a woman during sex and drawing blood. Psychologists describe the condition as ‘piquerism’ which is defined as paraphilic disorder – a sexual desire to cause an unwilling victim psychological distress, injury or death.
The distressing text messages at the centre of the current international legal storm shed light into the darkest recesses of a deranged mind as he gave vent to his depraved desires.
“I am a sadist. I enjoy other’s pain. You should help me inflict pain on you and help me with my fantasy,” went one of Dwyer’s earlier texts to his victim.
Another read: “I want to stick my knife in flesh while I am turned on. Blood turns me on and I would love to stab a girl to death sometime.” On another occasion he wrote: “My urge to rape, stab or kill is huge. You have to help me control or satisfy.”
There was considerable evidence of how Dwyer deliberated exploited Elaine O’Hara’s mental state, especially her suicidal tendencies. “If you ever want to die promise me I can do it,” Dwyer wrote. She replied: “Yes I promise sir.” When she texted that she was no longer suicidal, he replied: “I’ll have everything ready if it becomes too much, just think, all your worries gone.”
Mr Justice Tony Hunt the judge who presided over the trial in 2015 noted that there had been no psychiatric examination of Dwyer.
“I don’t know what’s up with him. He is in his place of denial. He is in his place of arrogance and delusion and there he will stay for the life sentence that I am going to commit him to in a moment.
"It’s now time to face his responsibilities. He is committed to a sentence of life imprisonment dating from September 17, 2013. It is a sentence he richly deserves.”