Wexford People

| 18.3°C Dublin

Windows smashed with hurl in €2.8 million betting dispute

THE DICTIONARY and law book he brought to court were not sufficient to stave off convictions on Monday for a Tagoat man accused of criminal damage and cultivating cannabis.

Gareth Murphy (37) from Ballyknockan, Tagoat also came to the District Court equipped with a copy of the Irish constitution but found himself no match in legal argument for Judge Gerard Haughton.

Before the case was heard at the courthouse in Ardcavan, solicitor Cormac Dunleavy formally came off record, allowing the accused to conduct his own defence. He stood accused of breaking three windows at Bruce Betting in Redmond Square and with having seven cannabis plants at his home in Ballyknockan.

During proceedings that lasted more than an hour and a half, the court heard evidence from six Gardaí and three staff who were working at the bookie's office in July 2008. The judge twice withdrew to his chamber during the hearing, as his rulings were not accepted by the defendant and Murphy was warned that he was close to being jailed for contempt.

First into the witness box was Bruce Betting manager Caitriona Doran who recalled that it was around 3 p.m. on the afternoon of July 14, 2008, when she was called to deal with a man in the public area. She found Murphy standing with a hurl. He was 'going on' about a bet placed the year previously and claimed that he was owed money to the tune of €2.8 million.

Ms. Doran said the defendant threatened to burn the place down if he did not receive the €2.8 million. Ms. Doran pointed out that the maximum payout was €100,000. She was concerned that the irate customer was raising his voice and when he also raised the hurl, she was worried that he was about to hit her. Instead he took a swipe at the glass in the front door and then broke two other windows on the premises. The shattered glazing was replaced the following day, but the next day it was broken once more. The total bill for repairs came to €2,900.

The evidence prompted legal argument as the accused reasoned that Bruce Betting was an illegal organisation. Citing barrister Brian Doolin's ' Principles of Irish Law' he suggested that the bookie's failure to pay up amounted to criminal damage and that he should be allowed in fairness to wreak criminal damage of his own in response.

However, the judge responded that, although a wager is not enforceable at law, it is a legal contract. He also pointed out that a bookmaker requires a licence to operate: 'That's my ruling and you are bound by it.'

The accused was reluctant to accept the decision. At one point he claimed that that there was a lack of communication and unsuccessfully argued that he was entitled to an interpreter.

Judge Haughton pointed out that Murphy had the right of appeal if he did not agree with the court's findings and procedures but, in the meantime, the case went ahead. He twice left the court room, for five minutes each time, to allow Gareth Murphy consider this in his absence.

Tanya Healy of Bruce Betting was called to tell how she saw Murphy swinging his hurl over his head on the date in question. She reckoned he resorted to such actions because ' he just wasn't getting his way'. She alerted the Gardaí.

Her evidence prompted observations from the defendant that he was being railroaded and that words were being used in a way that did not conform to the definitions dictionary - in this instance the 'Oxford English Dictionary'.

A third Bruce Betting employee was sworn in. Sharon Roche told how she arrived at the shop in Redmond Square to discover that the windows had been broken a second time, on July 16. Detective Garda Anne Marie Twomey was called in and she set off immediately for Tagoat with colleague Matt Kelly intent on arresting Murphy on suspicion of criminal damage.

They arrived at the house in Ballyknockan where the defendant refused them entry, offering to go to the barracks under his own steam after he had his breakfast. Instead he was eventually arrested after a standoff, once Garda Kelly forced his way in through the back door of the house.

On her way out of the house with the prisoner, Garda Twomey noticed cannabis plants in the garage. When asked what they were, he responded ' medication'. Scene of crime officer Detective Garda Gerry Keeley (since retired) took photographs of the plants and Rosslare-based Garda Tony Coakley was also present. The plants were dealt with by Detective Garda Pat O'Brien and his colleague Brian Cummins. Keeley, Coakley and O'Brien all gave brief evidence under oath.

Garda Cummins was in court to calculate that, at €400 per plant, the crop was worth €2,800. However, he conceded under cross-examination that his reckoning assumed the plants would grow to maturity without being affected by setbacks such as bud mould or greenfly.

Back at the Garda station in Wexford early that Wednesday afternoon, Murphy asked for a solicitor but there was none available. Garda Seán Twomey confirmed that he had contacted the offices of solicitors Kirwan & Kirwan, Doyle's, Lowney's, Caroline O'Connor's and MJ O'Connor's, all to no avail, so Anne Marie Twomey went ahead and interviewed the suspect anyway.

When the accused man queried the legality of this, the judge was ready with a copy of the Supreme Court judgement in the matter of DPP versus Paul McCrea ,which held that it was the duty of the Gardaí in such circumstances to make a reasonable effort to find a lawyer. This they had done, he ruled.

During the interview, Murphy harked back to the disputed bet, stating that the bookmakers had changed the odds and declared his wager a losing bet. He told his interrogators that he was psychologically traumatised and assured them that he made no threats against staff in Redmond Square.

Asked if he wished to call witnesses, Gareth Murphy said he would like to call grammarians but, in their absence, the judge proceeded to conviction. He dismissed the charge of criminal damage on July 16, noting that no evidence had been produced to show that the defendant was responsible for the second bout of window shattering.

In setting penalties, the court took note of the fact that the culprit had no previous convictions. He told the judge his financial circumstances were 'embarrassed' as he drew €188 weekly social welfare. Judge Haughton advised him that his grievance with Bruce Betting did not allow him to act as he did.

'Equality before the law does not mean you are entitled to get your own back,' he explained. 'That is the law of the jungle.' A six month sentence for criminal damage was handed down and six months concurrent for cultivation of herbal cannabis. Murphy was offered 120 hours community service in lieu of the jail term.

'I'll take the work,' was the prompt response. He was told to return to meet probation staff and return to court on September 3.