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Murder case drama as one witness changes her story

A KEY witness who was due to give evidence in a gangland murder trial dramatically retracted her statement during the case and blamed another criminal for the murder, the Herald can reveal.

Darren 'Fats' Byrne (38) from Raheny, north Dublin, was cleared by a jury of the gun murder of Paul Ryan (27) in a laneway near Birr, Co Offaly, in April 2003.

The case was investigated by the garda cold case unit and the trial heard that both Byrne and Ryan were being pursued over a drugs debt by the notorious criminal gang known as the Westies who were led by slain crimelords Shane Coates and Stephen Sugg.

Mr Ryan's mother gave evidence that her son said he ripped people off and knew a contract was out on his life.

John O'Hanlon who was present on the night of the murder told how he was standing beside Ryan when he was shot dead by Byrne in a remote gateway.

O'Hanlon (46) from Kilbarrack previously served three and a half years in jail for withholding information in relation to the murder.

The Herald has learned that O'Hanlon was not the only key witness that the prosecution had intended to call but a decision was made not to hear evidence from a female witness after she retracted her statement to gardai.

A source said: "She had information which stated that Byrne had admitted being involved in the murder.

"She then checked herself into a rehab centre and withdrew what she had said to gardai earlier and was not able to be called as a witness.

"Her testimony may have been crucial but we will never know now."