DPP v Meehan
Criminal Law - Evidence - Murder - Importation and possession of illegal drugs - Possession of Firearms - Main prosecution witnesses were accomplices on a witness protection programme - Whether the Court could rely on visual identification evidence - Whether the Court should rely on evidence of accomplices - Whether Court should rely on identification of accused in the dock.
The Court must treat with caution visual identification evidence, bearing in mind that it can often be unreliable and that a credible witness can often be mistaken. The Court must also treat with caution the evidence of accomplices especially where they have subscribed to a witness protection programme. A jury is entitled to accept or reject any part of a witness’s testimony as it chooses. Even where part of a witness’s testimony has been shown to be false, a jury is still entitled to accept another part of that testimony; the Special Criminal Court, sitting as Jurors of fact, has the same entitlement. The Special Criminal Court so held in convicting the Accused on a number of counts relating to murder, drugs and firearms and in relying on the corroborated evidence of accomplices to do so.
The Accused is charged with seventeen counts on the indictment. These counts may be grouped together as follows:
Count No. 1: The Accused is charged with the murder of Veronica Guerin on the 26th June 1996.
Counts No. 2 - 6 inclusive:The Accused is charged with the unlawful importation of a controlled drug on dates extending from the 1st July 1994 6th October 1996.
Counts No. 7 - 10 inclusive and Count No. 12: The Accused is charged with possession of a controlled drug for the purpose of selling or otherwise supplying it to another.
In Counts No. 13, 14 and 15 the Accused is charged with possession or control of firearms or ammunition with intent to endanger life.
In Counts No. 17 and 18 the Accused is charged with possession or control of firearms or ammunition in circumstances that he did not have them in his possession or under his control for a lawful purpose.
In considering this case the Court is required to consider evidence of visual identification, evidence of accomplices and evidence of dock identification. It therefore must bear in the forefront of its minds, during its deliberations, the warnings which a Trial Judge would give a Jury if a Jury were trying this case. These warnings are as follows:
In the case of visual identification the Court must consider that part of the Judgment of Kingsmill Moore J. inThe People (Attorney General) v Casey (No. 2)  IR p. 33 and in particular that part of his Judgment where he says “Experience has shown that mistakes can
occur where two or more witnesses have made positive identifications. We consider Juries, in cases where the correctness of an identification is challenged, should be directed on the following lines, namely, that if their verdict as to the guilt of the prisoner is to depend wholly or substantially on the correctness of such identification, they should bear in mind that there have been a number of incidences where responsible witnesses, whose honesty was not in. question and whose opportunities for observation had been adequate, made positive identifications on a parade or otherwise, which identifications were subsequently proved to be erroneous; and accordingly they should be specially cautious before accepting such evidence of identification as correct; but that if after careful examination of such evidence in the light of all the circumstances, and with due regard to all other evidence in the case, they feel satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of the correctness of the identification they are at liberty to accept it.”
In considering the evidence of accomplices, the Court bears in mind the warning identified inR v Baskerville  2 KB 663, which was approved in this Jurisdiction in the People (Attorney General) v Daniel Phelan and Luke Phelan) as follows: “The Judge may advise the Jury not to convict upon such evidence, but should point out to the Jury that it is within their legal province to convict upon such unconfirmed testimony.”
The evidence in this case should also be considered in the light of the fact that three of the witnesses who are accomplices have availed of the Witness Protection Programme provided by the State and accordingly the Court bears in mind all the dangers associated with such evidence.
Finally the Court must consider evidence of purported dock identification by John Duane and in doing so has regard to the Judgment of the Supreme Court in
 1ILRM where Keane J., delivering the Judgment of the Court said
“The Criminal Law has for a long time recognises that dock identifications were undesirable and unsatisfactory. This is due to the fact that the identification of the Accused for the first time when he or she is sitting in the place normally reserved for the Accused and usually flanked by Police Officers is of limited prohibitive value. Therefore, in cases where the identification of the Accused is likely to be an issue, the appropriate procedure is to hold an identification parade or, if this is impracticable, to afford the identification witness some other opportunity of identifying the Accused. It may, of course, not be possible to hold an identification parade or any other form of identification procedure because of the refusal of the suspect to co-operate. In such cases the Trial Judge in the exercise of his or her discretion may admit evidence of an identification in Court of the Accused but must specifically warn the Jury as to the dangers involved in acting on such evidence in identification cases was even greater than in cases of informal identification procedures.”
The case presented by the Prosecution is based upon a number of individual strands, any one of which, it is submitted, if the Court accepts the evidence, is sufficient in itself to construct the basis of a conviction on the Accused.
The Prosecution presents its case in the following way:
It submits that there was in existence, in Dublin, in and about the year 1996 a group or gang which imported and distributed and sold drugs on a large scale. This gang was under the overall leadership of John Gilligan. Drugs were imported from Holland arriving in Cork and where then transported to the Ambassador Hotel on the Naas Road. From there they were transferred by, among others, the Accused and were taken to a distribution centre laterally situate at the Greenmount Estate in Terenure where they were prepared for onward distribution. It is the Prosecution case that the Accused was one of the secondary gang leaders under the overall command of John Gilligan. The drugs were imported from Holland by using an import/export company
Seabridge. The drugs were transported in large boxes constructed with false centres. A witness, John Dunne, who was at that time Operations Manager in Seabridge was initiated into the scheme by John Gilligan and he facilitated the import of the drugs. John Dunne has pleaded guilty to ten counts of illegal importation of drugs and has received ten three year sentences in respect of these offences.
John Dunne has given evidence against the Accused and is an accomplice in the drugs related cases. During the importation of the drugs in 1966 he was introduced to the Accused who he knew as “Joe”. He met him from time to time on ten to twelve occasions when he, the Accused, collected the boxes containing the drugs at the Ambassador Hotel. John Dunne says that he spoke to him frequently on the ‘phone in addition to these meetings.
A description of the structure of the drug distribution method has been given to the Court by Charles Bowden. He, having served for a time in the Defence Forces, obtained a job as a doorman in a public house.
He was initiated into the scheme of drug distribution until he eventually held various positions within the gang. These included a responsibility for the care of the firearms and ammunitions, some responsibility for the collection of money, a responsibility for the removal of drugs from the importation boxes, the testing of the quality of the cannabis and the forwarding to distributors. To a large extent he took orders from the Accused. In addition he had a responsibility for receiving the arms at the Greenmount lock-up.
From time to time he was informed by, among others, the Accused that “Extras” would arrive in the boxes. The “Extras” took the form of firearms and ammunition. Charles Bowden was required to receive these to oil and wrap them and to conceal them in one of the graves in a cemetery at Old Court Road. He carried out this function, he says, on the instructions of the Accused.
The Prosecution has satisfied the Court beyond all reasonable doubt that on Wednesday the 26th June 1996 while the late Ms Guerin was returning from Naas at approximately 12.54 p.m. while she was driving her red Opel sports car she stopped at a traffic light at the junction of Boot Road and the Naas dual carriageway. A motor cycle with a rider and pillion passenger drew up beside her car and the pillion passenger fired six rounds into Ms Guerin’s body killing her instantly. These facts are not disputed by the Defence. The weapon was a .357 magnum revolver loaded with semi waddcutter bullets. These bullets have the feature of expanding on striking the target causing extra injury and damage.
Charles Bowden was a member of the drug importation and distribution gang to which reference has already been made. He has been sentenced for his participation in these events. He is now serving his sentence. He is participating in a Witness Protection
Programme. His evidence implicates the...
To continue readingREQUEST YOUR TRIAL