Prison officer 'threatened by criminals' successfully appeals drugs conviction

Grey Abbey Road, Kildare, where the man was stopped by gardai
Grey Abbey Road, Kildare, where the man was stopped by gardai

A prison officer who maintained he was threatened by criminals to bring drugs into prison has successfully appealed his conviction for possessing drugs.

Trevor Gleeson (36), with an address in Monasterevin, Co Kildare, had pleaded not guilty at Naas Circuit Criminal Court to simple possession of controlled drugs as well as possession for sale or supply at Grey Abbey Road, Kildare Town on December 22, 2009.

A jury found him guilty of five counts of possessing drugs but failed to reach a verdict on the charges of possession for sale or supply. At a retrial, the jury were discharged following the late disclosure of CCTV footage.

He was given a wholly-suspended 18-month sentence by Judge Leonie Reynolds on January 31, 2014.

Gleeson successfully appealed his conviction today, with the Court of Appeal holding that the trial judge erred in instructing the jury on the defence of duress and that CCTV footage was not disclosed in the first trial.

Giving judgment today, Mr Justice Alan Mahon said Gleeson, a prison officer at the Midlands Prison, maintained that he had been threatened by known criminals from inside and outside the prison and that he feared for his family if he didn't co-operate.

On the day he was stopped by gardai, a known criminal was seen getting into his car before getting out a short distance later. Before stopping his vehicle, gardai witnessed a plastic bag being thrown from the car which was retrieved and found to contain Diamorphine and cannabis worth €6,000.

Gleeson maintained it was his intention at all times to dump the drugs rather than bring them into prison.

The issue of whether he was acting under duress was central to the trial.

His barrister, Damien Colgan SC, submitted that the trial judge erred in instructing the jury on the defence of duress, that the garda investigation was flawed, unsatisfactory and improper and that the gardai detrimentally suppressed CCTV footage they had in their possession.

On the second day of Gleeson's second trial, Mr Justice Mahon said CCTV footage was made available to the defence.

It apparently showed Gleeson and his young child standing at and then entering a lift in a shopping centre. Two men, apparently known criminals, immediately walked behind Gleeson and his young son, before walking away when a garda approached.

Mr Justice Mahon said the benefit and evidential value of the jury seeing this scenario was likely to have been of considerable impact had they viewed it.

It was a fact that the CCTV footage was in existence at the time of the first trial and it may have swayed the jury leading to his acquittal on all charges, Mr Justice Mahon said.

Understandably, the absence of the CCTV footage was of concern to the judge in the second trial.

Mr Justice Mahon said the defence of duress was neither entirely objective nor entirely subjective. It has to include an element of both because it needs to take account of the particular circumstances of the person seeking to invoke it.

For example, Mr Justice Mahon said, a wealthy person capable of moving himself and his family out of the jurisdiction should not be entitled to rely on the defence in the same way as somebody without the means to escape.

It was appropriate for the judge to include in her charge to the jury a requirement they consider the defence on the basis of what Gleeson, a prison officer working in a prison inhabited by dangerous criminals, ought to have reacted to threats.

Mr Justice Mahon, who sat with Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice John Edwards, said the judge's failure to do so was an error.

He said the court would allow the appeal on the basis of the first trial judge's charge to the jury on the defence of duress and that the CCTV footage ought to have been made available to the defence in the first trial.

In those circumstances, said it was unnecessary for the court to make any determination in relation to other grounds of appeal including the question of whether the garda investigation was unsatisfactory or improper.

Ruaidhrí Giblin