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Bail Hearing Barrister allegedly shot unarmed dad in back of head after farm 'altercation', court told

The senior lawyer told gardai in interview that he believed he was under threat and was "terrified", the court heard.

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Diarmuid Phelan

Diarmuid Phelan

Diarmuid Phelan

A witness told gardai that a leading barrister shot an unarmed father-of-four in the back of the head as he turned to run away after an altercation on farmland in Tallaght last month, the High Court has heard.

The court heard however, the senior lawyer told gardai in interview that he believed he was under threat and was "terrified".

The High Court heard today it would be alleged that senior counsel and law lecturer Diarmuid Rossa Phelan had first "deliberately shot" Keith Conlon's dog with a legally held rifle without any forewarning.

A witness told gardai that the accused then fired three shots from a licensed revolver following a "verbal altercation", with the final shot hitting the deceased in the back of the head after he had turned to run away, the court also heard.

Mr Phelan, who gave evidence today via video-link, told Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy that there was no possibility of him trying to evade justice saying: "I have to clear my name".

Ms Justice Murphy is expected to deliver a decision tomorrow on Mr Phelan's application to be granted bail.

Mr Phelan (53), of Kiltalown Lane, Tallaght, Co Dublin is accused of murdering Mr Conlon (36) at Hazelgrove Farm, Kiltalown Lane, Tallaght, on February 22 last.

Mr Conlon, from Kiltalown Park in Tallaght, was severely injured in the shooting incident and died at Tallaght University Hospital two days later.

At today’s bail hearing, Detective Garda Mick McGrath from Tallaght Garda Station told Jane McGowan BL for the State, that gardai were objecting to bail under the “O’Callaghan principles”, where it is argued the accused is a likely flight risk.

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 Keith Conlon

Keith Conlon

Keith Conlon

There is also an objection to bail under Section 2 of the Bail Act, which allows the refusal of bail if the court is satisfied such a refusal is necessary to prevent the accused committing a serious offence while on bail.

Outlining his objections to bail, Det Gda McGrath said it would be alleged that a group of three unarmed men were out hunting with a dog at 1.10pm on February 22, when they entered the lands at Hazelgrove Farm and had an encounter with the landowner. The detective said it would also be alleged that Mr Phelan had "deliberately shot" Mr Conlon's dog with his licensed rifle without any forewarning.

The witness said that "a verbal altercation" occurred between two of the men and Mr Phelan.

Det Gda McGrath testified that Mr Phelan's employees, who were the majority of witnesses at the scene, said he had fired three shots from his licensed revolver and the last shot was allegedly "fired directly" at Mr Conlon and hit him in the back of the head.

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The court heard that Mr Phelan had two guns on him and that after the first shot was fired Mr Conlon and his friends went to run away.

Mr Conlon was taken to Tallaght Hospital and the accused stayed at the scene, where he spoke to gardai. "He admitted to myself that he shot the deceased and was subsequently arrested by myself and brought to Tallaght Garda Station where he was detained over three days," said the detective.

Mr Phelan was interviewed on a number of occasions and exercised his legal right to silence for the first 24 hours, said the witness, adding that the accused accepted that he shot Mr Conlon with the licensed firearm, stating he was terrified.

The witness said Mr Phelan told gardai during his interviews that he was "stunned when one man went down".

Det Gda McGrath said witnesses had contradicted Mr Phelan's version of events, with one witness saying that the accused had fired a small shot and then said loudly: "Keep your distance".

The same witness told gardai: "At that moment when he shot in the air, the two guys got scared. They turned to walk away and Diarmuid shot one of the guys with the gun. Diarmuid shot him in the back but the guy fell straight forward onto the ground".

When asked about the ammunition in his interviews, Mr Phelan told gardai that he had "bird shot bullets" in the revolver. The accused told gardai: "You showed me rounds I didn't think were in it, the third round must have been a bullet."

Mr Phelan is a licensed owner of ten firearms, the court heard, and has "extensive experience" in using them.

The officer said he had been informed that "the shot can be fatal" regardless of whether the revolver contained birdshot or hollow bullets.

Det Gda McGrath said the length of time between the shooting of the dog and Mr Conlon was two to three minutes or "maybe less".

The witness told Ms Justice Murphy that he was fearful that if Mr Phelan was granted bail he would abscond. The court heard he is a senior counsel, that he works for Trinity College, has links to northern Ireland, mainland Europe and the US as well as considerable assets and finance.

"He has links to the north of Ireland through a company called Sagacious Investment Ltd, which is a property vehicle company and owns the lands where the murder occurred," said the detective. Mr Phelan is also listed as the director of another company based in northern Ireland, is the registered owner of lands in Wexford and also owns property in Dublin.

Det Gda McGrath said that the accused had extensive contacts abroad and owned considerable assets. "I consider him a flight risk and he may not turn up for his upcoming trial," he added.

The witness said that due to the seriousness of the offence he did not consider any conditions of bail appropriate.

When asked by Ms McGowan whether the accused had been caught red-handed, Det Gda McGrath said Mr Phelan had been arrested at the scene and made admissions to gardai in relation to the shooting prior to his arrest. The accused is alleged to have told the witness: "I shot him, the minute he was hurt I stopped".

The detective said the majority of the prosecution witnesses in the case were eyewitnesses to the shooting. "They are employees of Mr Phelan and he has contact with them and I have a fear they may be interfered with," he added.

The court heard that there were five witnesses, four of whom are the accused employees and the fifth witness is Mr Conlon's friend.

In relation to further offending, Det Gda McGrath said Mr Phelan has "extensive experience" with firearms, that he is a member of gun clubs and is a licensed holder of ten firearms. The witness said he had a fear that "something serious may happen again like this".

The court heard that the ten firearms have been seized since his arrest.

Defence counsel Michael O'Higgins SC then read accounts given by his client to gardai in interview. Mr Phelan told gardai that he shot the dog after seeing it alone behind a bush on his land, and that three men, who appeared to be hiding then "exploded from the bush".

Mr O'Higgins continued: "I said what are you doing here. They said it is not my land, which I answered 'this is my land'. They started to say "they be getting me" and one took a photo. I said what are you doing here. I was very scared. My hands were shaking."

"They saw me falling down and clamouring. I had a feeling they sensed my fears. The Travellers were screaming and shouting at us. I then went back up the bank with a view to pack up everything and withdraw. I hate shooting the dogs. I then saw the Travellers coming towards us. I shouted I have called gardai, they kept coming. I did not know where the third man was. I shouted at them to keep back and they kept coming. I walked forward a few steps and said more forcibly. I was terrified.

"Then he came on me again. I had a rifle on my shoulder. He looked at me in the eyes, saw I was afraid and could get me. They coming to fulfil the threats down in the valley. The lead man had something at the front of his camouflage jacket, there seemed to be something there. I said it to gardai on the day, I was terrified.

"I was stunned when one man went down and I thought he was up to something. He went down sideways and ended up lying more or less perpendicular to where I was," concluded Mr O'Higgins.

The lawyer then listed over 20 occasions where a series of written complaints were made to gardai involving Mr Phelan and a Travellers halting site which adjoined his land.

The detective told Mr O'Higgins that the deceased, who he knew for over 15 years, lived locally in Tallaght and was not a settled Traveller. "We will agree to differ," replied the barrister.

Under cross-examination by Mr O'Higgins, the witness said he was not sure whether his client had personally rang gardai but agreed that he had gone to the house to get a First Aid kit and directed gardai to where Mr Conlon was.

The witness said that the accused had made an admission to firing the weapon.

In re-examination, the garda told Ms McGowan that although the accused told him that he rang 999 he did not believe that he had.

He said there was also a 20 second clip from a mobile phone that the deceased had taken prior to the fatal shooting in which the dog can be seen lying on the ground. "The deceased is recording the footage and one can see Mr Phelan also in the footage and the deceased is shouting at Mr Phelan 'what did you do to my dog, I'm going to ring gardai'," said the detective.

Wearing a white shirt and jacket, Mr Phelan, who is the father of four children, told Mr O'Higgins via video-link that he promised to turn up for his trial. The accused said he is an associate professor of law in Trinity College and had been employed there since 1994. He has also practiced at the Bar since 1994 and was called to the inner bar in 2008.

Mr Phelan said he had been farming in Tallaght since 2015 and in Wexford since 2000. The accused said he would be prepared to stay away from the farms if he was granted bail.

The court heard the accused is in possession of an Irish and American passport but they have since been taken into the possession of gardai. He agreed with the judge that he was an American citizen.

The accused said the entirety of his Trinity salary goes towards independent homecare for his mother in her home.

Under cross-examination, Mr Phelan told Ms McGowan that there was no possibility of him trying to evade justice saying: "I have to clear my name".

When asked about the 22 complaints made to gardai, the accused said: "There are far many more calls made, those complaints are only in letter".

The bail hearing will resume at 10.30am tomorrow morning.

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