Murderer's legal team say gardaí had “an agenda” to obtain confession from him “no matter what”

Bryan Ryan
Bryan Ryan

Lawyers for a Dublin man currently serving a life sentence for murder, have told the Court of Appeal that the gardaí had “an agenda” to obtain a confession from their client “no matter what”.

Bryan Ryan (31), of Ard Caher, Louisburgh, Co. Mayo, but originally from Blanchardstown, had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Ian Tobin (25) at Fortlawn Park, Blanchardstown, on May 27, 2007.

A jury at the Central Criminal Court returned a 10-2 majority verdict of guilty after 6 hours and 27 minutes of deliberation and Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy gave him the mandatory life sentence on March 22 2013.

Mr Tobin was shot through a door of a house in Blanchardstown but the court heard his brother, Blake Tobin, was the intended victim of the attack.

It was the prosecution's case that Ryan drove the gunman on a motorbike to the killing in Fortlawn Park on the morning in question and the case was one of joint enterprise.

His conviction in 2013 was the second time Ryan had been found guilty of the murder.

His first conviction in 2008 was subsequently quashed by the Court of Criminal Appeal over the then trial judge's failure to properly warn the jury about evidence given by a key prosecution witness – Kevin Whelan – who was in the Witness Protection Programme.

Moving to appeal his conviction today, counsel for Ryan, Dominic McGinn SC, submitted to the Court of Appeal that the two “tenets” of evidence against Ryan was Mr Whelan's evidence and confession evidence from Ryan himself.

Mr McGinn said the gardaí had “an agenda” to obtain a confession from Ryan “no matter what” using “whatever techniques” they could.

As well as shouting, taunting and making references to family, Mr McGinn said the gardaí also misstated the law on manslaughter and overstated the CCTV evidence that they had.

He said Ryan had confessed to something that objectively couldn't be correct.

He confessed to having burned the motorcycle used in the shooting along with clothing and helmets but the forensic evidence didn't bear that out, counsel said.

There was no sign of any burnt helmets or clothing, Mr McGinn submitted, yet when he went to make the confession he “parroted” what the gardaí had told him.

That gave rise to real concern about whether what he was saying was voluntary, Mr McGinn submitted.

He said Ryan became what they wanted him to become and that would explain his relaxed demeanour.

Mr McGinn said the prosecution conceded that there were breaches of Ryan's Constitutional rights in the interviews before his confession but “somehow” those breaches were cured by a conversation he had with his solicitor that couldn't have lasted more than 85 seconds.

He said it was entirely artificial, from a total of 15 interviews, to come to the conclusion that Ryan's confession was reliable and voluntary.

It was “an island of constitutionality in a sea of unfairness”, he said, and it was incorrect of the trial judge to rule that all of that was set at nought by an 85 second phone call between Ryan and his solicitor. 

The confession in interview 14 could not be divorced from everything that went before, counsel said.

Mr McGinn accepted that due deference must be paid to a trial judge's conclusion but the Court of Appeal had an inherent duty to ensure fair procedures.

He further submitted that the judge erred in refusing to hear expert evidence as to Ryan's demeanour while making the confession.

Mr McGinn said the trial judge stated that Ryan was 'jockular and relaxed' while making the confession.

He also held, Mr McGinn said, that the effects of the unconstitutionality of the first detention had been spent but that was an assessment on human psychology the trial judge wasn't able to make.

He said the judge put himself in a position of being an expert on human psychology.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Tom O'Connell SC, said the central evidence in the case was the evidence of Kevin Whelan, who was in the witness protection programme.

Mr O'Connell said the confession was favourable to Ryan in so far as Ryan admitted to being present in Fortlawn Park on the back of a bike with his accomplice but he had no knowledge a gun was being carried or that harm was intended to Mr Blake Tobin.

There may have been strong language used by the gardaí, Mr O'Connell said, but an interrogaton is not meant to be a “genteel encounter”.

He said the 15 interviews were punctuated by two detentions over 17 days.

The crucial issue, he submitted, was whether or not anything was said to Ryan that amounted to a threat or whether some advantage might have accrued to him in making the confession.

Mr Justice George Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice Alan Mahon, said the court would reserve judgment.