Serial killer Mark Nash loses damages claim appeal

Mark Nash
Mark Nash

Serial killer Mark Nash has lost a Supreme Court appeal seeking damages for delay in prosecuting him for the Grangegorman murders

Nash is currently serving a life sentence after being found guilty of the murders of Sylvia Sheils (59) and Mary Callanan (61) at their sheltered housing in Grangegorman in Dublin in 1997, which is currently under appeal.  He was previously convicted for the murder in 1997 of two people in Ballintober, Co Roscommon.

In 2012, the High Court dismissed proceedings brought by Nash against the DPP aimed at preventing the Grangegorman trial from proceeding.

He had sought the prohibition of his trial on grounds including the delay in bringing the charges, publicity surrounding the case, and because of the unavailability of a witnesses including Dean Lyons who died in 2000.

Nash also claimed he is entitled to damages because his rights to a trial with due expedtion, under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) Act 2003, had been breached. 

The High Court dismissed his application to stop his prosecution.

That court, in a separate judgment, also dismissed the damages claim.

He then appealed both decisions to the Supreme Court which dismissed the attempt to stop his prosecution which meant he trial went ahead.

The question of damages remained and on Monday, in a unanimous judgment, a five-judge Supreme Court also dismissed the damages claim.

Giving the judgment, Mr Justice Frank Clarke said it is clear damages may be available breach of a right to a timely trial, either under the Constitution or the 2003 ECHR Act, at least at the level of general principle.

It was necessary to start an analysis of Nash's damages claim by reference to the facts of the case whether any case had been made out for culpable delay on the part of the State, or others for whom the State may be responsible. 

He was not satisfied any culpable delay on the parts of the State or others had been established in the circumstances of this case.

Mr Justice Clarke said he would leave it to a case in which culpable delay has been established on what the relevant parameters are on jurisdiction to award damages under the ECHR Act or the Constitution.

It did not seem appropriate to address those issues in the abstract in a case where such delay has not been established, he said.

The court also dismissed a cross-appeal by the DPP against a decision to award Nash some of the costs of his action.

Nash's counsel told the appeal he was charged in 2009 - some ten years after the DPP directed he be charged with both Grangegorman murders.

Nash made admissions to the gardai concerning those murders, which were later retracted, in August 1997, the court heard.

For 12 years Nash was treated as a suspect.

Counsel said the delay was because forensic evidence obtained from tests carried out on clothing belonging to Nash  should have been carried out years earlier than they were. This resulted in a less satisfactory trial, it was argued.

He also suffered prejudice because his application to transfer to a prison in his native England, while serving his sentence for the Ballintober murders, did not proceed and because Nash was suspected of being involved in the Grangegorman murders, counsel said.

Nash had also brought an application for the inclusion of additional evidence, not previously before the court, as part of the application for damages.

Counsel said there was "a lack of candour" by the Forensic Science Laboratory as it had not disclosed a potential compromise of forensic evidence in the case.

A jacket belonging to Nash, from which DNA samples were taken, was examined in the same lab where a short time previously blood stained items from the murder scene at Grangegorman were brushed down.

This fact was not brought to the attention of an expert retained  on Nash's behalf and only came to light in the lead up to the trial when a second expert was retained and contributed to the delay.

The DPP argued the application should be dismissed.