NewsCrime Desk

Teen killer's year in solitary confinement not a breach of human rights

Solitary: McDonnell has been in 23-hour confinement since his conviction for murdering Melanie McCarthy
Solitary: McDonnell has been in 23-hour confinement since his conviction for murdering Melanie McCarthy

A Court of Appeal has ruled killer Daniel McDonnell's year-long stint in solitary confinement was not a breach of his human rights.

The court has overturned a High Court finding in favour of the murderer, who is from Tallaght in Dublin.

The 21-year-old was found guilty of the murder of 16-year-old Melanie McCarthy, who was gunned down as she sat in a car with two others during a drive-by shooting in February of 2012. 

McCarthy, who was sitting in a car with her boyfriend at the time of the shooting in Tallaght, was shot in the head in a callous murder which shocked the country to its core. 

McDonnell has been in solitary confinement since being convicted of the heinous crime. 

Earlier this year, the High Court's Mr Justice Brian Cregan found the 23-hour lock-up regime under which he was serving his sentence at Wheatfield Prison amounted to a breach of his constitutional right to bodily and psychological integrity.

The prison governor appealed that decision and told the court McDonnell had been kept apart from the rest of the prison population for his own safety. 

Read: Thug who killed Melanie McCarthy McNamara busted with phone in cell.

A three-judge Court of Appeal found Mr Justice Cregan fell into error and found the solitary confinement necessary and not in breach of his human rights. 

The Court ruled that it is for the prison authorities to decide what measures are necessary for the safety of prisoners.

A high level of threat or some extreme circumstance may justify severely restrictive conditions of detention on a temporary basis, the court found.

The High Court's declaration that his solitary confinement was in breach of his constitutional rights "did not reflect a sufficient or correct analysis of the complex issues in the case," the court also found.

These included factors such as that the nature of the threat to McDonnell is grave, and the only purpose of the temporary conditions is his protection.

The actual conditions of McDonnell's detention, although harsh, are not intolerable, the court said. A court cannot dictate to the governor of a prison how the institution is to be managed, it also found. 

Wheatfield Prison Governor Mr Patrick Kavanagh told a previous court hearing in February that there is a serious threat to McDonnell's life and safety.

The threat was such McDonnell is not safe among the general prisoner population "in any prison in Ireland".

Mr Kavanagh said at that time that McDonnell's location on a secure wing in Wheatfield Prison is the safest place for him to be.

The criminals who wished to harm Daniel McDonnell, he said, had "an extensive means of influence" within prisons, and it was impossible for the prison services to know where exactly the danger to McDonnell would come from.

McDonnell was convicted of the murder after a case which revolved around two letters he wrote while awaiting trial. 

In one of the notes, McDonnell boasted: “Two in the head. The bitch is dead. Ha ha. Left his bitch all over the Sunday World front page. Best night of my poxy life.”

Last year, a prison source told Sundayworld.com: “They are marked men and, as a result, they need to be on a protection wing.

“Hall and McDonnell are in adjacent cells and they would still be friendly.”

 The source added staff are aware of a bounty that was placed on their heads.

He added: “A sum of cash has been offered to anyone who beats up the lads on Melanie’s anniversary.

“The gang who have offered the cash don’t want either of the two lads killed.

“They just want them to be badly beaten.”

Shuki Byrne & Aodhan O'Faolain