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Veronica Guerin's killer moves to have conviction quashed

CourtsBy Sunday World
Brian Meehan
Brian Meehan

A man jailed for life for the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin has moved to have his conviction declared a miscarriage of justice.

Brian Meehan (47), from Crumlin in Dublin, is serving a life sentence in Portlaoise prison having being convicted in July 1999 of the murder of Ms Guerin in June 1996 following a 31-day-trial before the non-jury Special Criminal Court. He was also jailed on drugs and firearms charges.

Meehan has applied to quash his 1999 murder conviction on the basis of alleged new or newly discovered facts.

The new evidence concerns matters which emerged in the course of the 2001 Special Criminal Court trial of John Gilligan at the close of which Mr Gilligan was acquitted of Ms Guerin's murder.

Counsel for Meehan, Hugh Hartnett SC, told the Court of Appeal this morning that the Special Criminal Court which tried his client relied entirely on the evidence of an “admitted accomplice” and protected witness, Russell Warren.

The Special Criminal Court stated that it approached Mr Warren's evidence with caution noting that doubts had been cast on his account.

The court went on to state that it recognised two pieces of evidence in the case – a statement by Ms Marian Finnegan, which was extremely supportive of the case against Meehan and telephone evidence which was corroborative.

Ms Finnegan said she had seen someone standing on the steps of Naas Courthouse at around 12.30 on the date in question who was wearing a striking green jacket, peering around the corner and carrying an old mobile phone.

She never identified this person but the Special Criminal Court was 'satisifed beyond a reasonable doubt' that her evidence as to the conduct of that person meant that it was Mr Warren, Mr Hartnett said.

They made that decision despite the fact Mr Warren himself never said he was on the courthouse steps, Mr Hartnett said.

It later emerged “out of the blue” and only on foot of enquiries from the Special Criminal Court at the end of John Gilligan's trial, that Mr Warren had been put on an identification parade in front of Ms Finnegan shortly after the shooting and she had not identified him.

It went to the core of the rational on which Meehan was convicted, Mr Hartnett said.

Ms Finnegan's failure to identify him on the identification parade was unknown to the defence, unknown to the court and presumably, he said, unknown to the prosecution because if they had known about it they would have been professionaly bound to put if before the court.

Mr Hartnett submitted that this was a new fact and “classicly so”.

If the court had known about Marian Finnegan's failure to recognise Mr Warren on the idenitfication parade, The Special Criminal Court could not have made the observation it made, Mr Hartnett said.

He said two Special Criminal Court judgments on the exact same incident involving the exact same people, were “radically different”.

The court in Meehan's trial accepted Mr Warren's evidence as strongly corroborative while the court in Gilligan's trial rejected it and said it could not accept the evidence of this person.

How could one court state that Mr Warren was worthy enough to convict somebody else of murder and anther court, a short time later, state that Mr Warren could not be relied upon, Mr Hartnett asked.

He asked what any objective observer would think upon seeing that. “I won't say it brings the court into disrepute but it is undesirable,” Mr Hartnett said.

Mr Hartnett said Mr Warren, a man in the witness protection programme who appeared allegedly to have received some money, only presented this story at a very late stage and a year after he made a statement to an entirely different affect.

Mr Hartnett said this was an “exceptional case” and would not open any floodgates.

He further submitted that various witnesses who were in the immediate vicinity of the “assasination” had sight of what had happened and who was there. Their evidence was omitted from the Meehan trial but admitted in the Gilligan trial, he said.

Mr Warren had said Meehan was driving the motorbike wearing a silver grey helmet but no other wintess confirmed that assertion, Mr Hartnett said. For example, one witness said both persons on the motorbike were wearing black helmets.

Furthermore, no other witness saw the blue van Mr Warren said he was driving behind Ms Guerin's red sports car.

He said the evidence of telephone traffic “just did not add up”.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Thomas O'Connell SC, said Meehan's application should be rejected because the material was known to his trial lawyers and certainly known to him and his lawyers before his Court of Criminal Appeal case.

Mr O'Connell said Meehan was seeking to “dodge” the requirements of section 2 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1992 to show the existence of alleged new or newly discovered facts.

He said all of the witness statements had been made available to the defence.

Mr O'Connell will continue making submissions before Mr Justice George Birmingham, Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Edwards tomorrow.

By Ruaidhrí Giblin