RETIRED GARDA John Joe Sinnott, who had pleaded not guilty to two car crime related charges, told a trial in Carlow last week that the vehicle in question was used during the course of a search for missing South Wexford woman, Fiona Sinnott.
The jury at the Carlow Circuit Criminal Court found Sinnott, of Camblin Hill, New Ross, not guilty of a charge of using a Peugeot 206, without consent of owner Laurent Sila at Rosslare Harbour, on February 16, 2008.
He was found guilty on the second charge of, between December 25, 2007, and March 5, 2008, having possession of a stolen vehicle or being reckless as to whether it was stolen.
In his evidence, Sinnott told the jury of six men and six women that on the day in question he brought now retired Garda Inspector Michael Walsh and New Ross diviner, Patrick O'Brien, to several locations in South Wexford during the course of searches over a number of hours for missing Fiona Sinnott.
At the outset, Prosecuting Counsel, Conor O'Doherty, told the jury that they would hear evidence that John Joe Sinnott drove the stolen car, and evidence that the vehicle was subsequently found in a car park in New Ross.
Det. Garda Matt Kelly said when he was on duty on March 5, 2008 at Camblin, New Ross, he went to investigate a UK-registered vehicle in the car park of the Hillside Bar.
After examining the car, he went into the pub where he met publican John Hanton, who told him the car had been there for a number of months having been parked by a foreign national who lived in Kilkenny. He said he had been asked by John Joe Sinnott if it was alright for the vehicle to be parked in the car park.
Det. Kelly said it was the fact that the vehicle was parked on its own, and English registered, that brought it to his attention. Retired Garda John Stafford, who was on duty with Det. Kelly that day, gave similar evidence. He said twhen they looked at the car the chassis number on the windscreen had been blanked out.
John Hanton said he was told by John Joe Sinnott that a foreign national had left the car there as he was going to drive a lorry. He said Sinnott had asked if the car could be parked in the car park. It was there for a few weeks, he added.
Det. Garda Eugene O'Sullivan, attached to the Stolen Vehicles Squad, told the trial that he had examined the vehicle at New Ross Garda Station. There were no keys, but he succeeded in opening it.
He said the chassis number in various locations on the car had been scratched or removed, but that by enhancing the damaged chassis number in the boot, he was able to establish the original number. He said whoever had the car was trying to disguise the fact that it was stolen.
Mr. O'Doherty, for the prosecution, read Laurent Silva's statement into evidence, which stated: 'I bought a black Peugeot car back in 2003. On the morning I went outside and searched for the car but could not find it. I was later shown the car at New Ross Garda Station by Det. Alan Byrne. It was my car. When the car was stolen I had both keys with me. I did not give anyone permission to take my car.'
Garda John O'Flynn said that on March 6, 2008, he met Det. Flynn of New Ross Garda Station and identified a pair of wellies as the same pair he had given to John Joe Sinnott at Wexford Garda Station on February 16. He said he was told the boots, marked 'J O'Flynn', were found in the Peugeot car.
Now retired Inspector Michael Walsh said that prior to February 13, 2008, John Joe Sinnott approached him saying he had been approached by a businessman in New Ross telling him that there was a diviner who could assist in the search for Fiona Sinnott who had been missing since April 1998. John Joe Sinnott said he was told that the diviner wanted to speak to a garda but not New Ross gardai.
Inspector Walsh, who was attached to the Wexford Station, said he travelled to New Ross on February 13, 2008, where he met John Joe Sinnott at a filling station on the quay. He said Sinnott took him to North Street where they entered a premises and met Patrick O'Brien who told him he was a diviner. He said he would know where Fiona Sinnott was buried.
Inspector Walsh said there was an Ordinance Survey Map of South Wexford on the kitchen table. Mr O'Brien said that he had assisted with similar investigation relating to missing persons in other counties.
He said that he told Mr O'Brien that he would have to get permission from Supt. John Roche, which he later received. Mr O'Brien said the car would have to be unmarked, as he did not want to bring any notice to what was being carried out.
Inspector Walsh said that it was arranged that John Joe Sinnott would pick up O'Brien on February 16. However, on that morning Sinnott was detained at Taghmon Garda Station. Inspector Walsh said it was then arranged for him to pick up O'Brien and drive to Wexford. On the way he rang John Joe Sinnott who told him they would meet at the old industrial estate on the Rosslare Road. Later John Joe Sinnot drove in in a UK-registered Peugeot 206.
Sinnott said he had to drive a truck to a yard in Kilrane. 'John Joe Sinnott gave me €10 to put petrol in the car. I drove the car, O'Brien was with me in the front seat. John Joe Sinnott drove a lorry down to the industrial estate in Kilrane. On arrival in Kilrane I got out of the car, got into the back seat and John Joe Sinnott drove,' Inspector Walsh said.
They went to a couple of fields, where O'Brien said he was 'getting vibes', and then drove through Bridgetown where Fiona Sinnott had lived, going on through Deerpark in Murrintown to the graveyard in Kildavin. He said that O'Brien concentrated on a grave while both himself and John Joe Sinnott stood at the wall.
O'Brien called him and showed him a site where he believed that Fiona Sinnott was buried. and then they went to Spencerstown where the old reservoir is located. He wanted to see inside and they lifted him up to as he could see over the wall. After that they left and returned to the industrial estate on the Rosslare road where he collected his car and left. Replying to Mr. O'Kelly, for the defence, Inspector Walsh said that several searches had been carried out for missing Fiona Sinnott. Mr. O'Kelly said that to this date Fiona Sinnott has still not being found.
Patrick O'Brien said he went to the Rosslare Road with Inspector Walsh in the car. Garda Sinnott arrived, got into a lorry and drove off, while Walsh and himself followed in the car. They drove to Goff's Recycling yard in Kilrane.
He said he noticed the car was UK-registered and had only one disc on the windscreen. Mr O'Brien said that on April 3, 2008, he was shown a vehicle at New Ross Garda Station. There was no number plate on it. It was a grey vehicle with black trims.
Replying to Mr. O'Kelly, he said he agreed with the evidence of Inspector Walsh. He said that he felt he had to do something as he had been divining and thought he could be of assistance.
The defendant, in his evidence, said he had retired from the gardai in 2009. He confirmed that on February 16, 2008, he was driving the car, and accepted he had borrowed a pair of boots from Garda O'Flynn.
He said that himself and Inspector Walsh were going with O'Brien on the search and that he left Wexford Garda Station in a hurry as he worked in Taghmon. He rang Inspector Walsh, making arrangements for him to pick up O'Brien as he (Sinnott) was detained at Taghmon Garda Station where there had been a break in. Sinnott told the trial that he had been doing some truck driving for Brian Dunne, including driving abroad, at the time. On a trip back he met an Englishman on the boat who had asked him if there was any place that he could leave a truck.
The truck was then parked at the Hillside Pub car park. He said that it could have been after Christmas when the same man had a car on a trailer and he asked if he could leave his car or the trailer. The car was a black Peugeot 206 which was left in the car park after consultation with publican Mr. Hanton.
Sinnott said it was left to him to take the truck to Rosslare on the Friday or Saturday. He said that he had brought down the black car the night before and that when he used the car on February 16 he had no idea it was stolen.
He outlined details regarding the searches with diviner Patrick O'Brien. He said that one stage Mr O'Brien spoke quite a lot and intimated something dreadful had happened in a field, after which they drove through Bridgetown to Kildavin cemetery. Mr O'Brien identified one grave where he said Fiona Sinnott's remains could have been buried. Replying to Prosecuting Counsel, Mr. O'Doherty, he said he would never have looked at the chassis numbers on the car. Judge Doyle said he was no ordinary witness as he was a garda at the time.
When Mr. O'Doherty asked the defendant, 'How did you end up driving the car?', he said the owner had spoken to him and said the keys were on the wheel if he needed to use it.
Mr. O'Doherty suggested that when one looked in the boot of a car one could not miss the chassis number.
The defendant replied: 'I was taller than the car and would would not have looked into the boot. I would just have thrown the wellies in.'
After the jury delivered their decision, Judge Alice Doyle adjourned sentencing to the April sessions and the defendant was remanded on continuing bail.