Ruling overturned  | 

Leading barrister accused of murdering dad-of-four on Dublin farm is granted bail

The Associate Professor of Law at Trinity College sought bail in the High Court last month but his application was rejected

Barrister Diarmuid Rossa Phelan (53)

Alison O’Riordan

A leading barrister who is accused of murdering a father-of-four in a fatal shooting on farmland in Tallaght has been granted bail after the Court of Appeal overturned the rejection of his bail application by the High Court last month.

Diarmuid Rossa Phelan was granted bail on condition that he enter his own bond of €50,000, while an independent surety of €50,000 will also be required. The court previously heard that the largest amount of bail fixed in the State to date was €100,000.

Ruling on Mr Phelan's bail application this evening, President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham said the accused man enjoys a presumption of innocence and as part of that he enjoys a presumption in favour of bail. He said Mr Phelan, who is a law lecturer and senior counsel, has ties to the State as a member of the Bar of Ireland and as a person with significant assets in this jurisdiction.

Mr Phelan has never offended and "on the contrary has been a person of good standing in the community", Mr Justice Birmingham pointed out.

He added that the bail conditions agreed between the parties justified the court's decision to admit Mr Phelan to bail.

The Associate Professor of Law at Trinity College sought bail in the High Court last month but his application was rejected by Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy on the grounds that he is a serious flight risk. Mr Phelan appealed the decision by the High Court not to grant him bail to the Court of Appeal, which heard submissions earlier this week.

Last month, Ms Justice Murphy said that the applicant had a "powerful incentive to evade justice" based on the seriousness of the charge, the strength of the evidence, the likely sentence in the event of a conviction and alleged ongoing threats to the accused. She also said the full extent of Mr Phelan's assets was not known and the court noted that three different addresses in south Dublin had been submitted by the accused.

However, Mr Phelan successfully appealed the High Court decision today and he was accordingly granted bail by the Court of Appeal on a number of strict conditions.

On Tuesday of this week, the Court of Appeal President Mr Justice Birmingham asked that the applicant provide a comprehensive financial statement to the court setting out his assets, liabilities, all sources of income in recent years and details of any property in and outside the jurisdiction.

On Thursday, Mr Justice Birmingham told Mr Phelan that he left the High Court judge "totally in the dark" in regards to his financial affairs when applying for bail.

Keith Conlon

Mr Phelan (53), of Kiltalown Lane, Tallaght, Co Dublin is accused of the murder of Keith 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.

Before judgment was given in the three-judge court this evening, Michael O'Higgins SC, for Mr Phelan, said the parties had agreed the terms in respect of bail and his client had given certain undertakings.

President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice Birmingham said the court did not believe it was a situation where the question of admission of bail could not be contemplated rather it was a question as to whether the terms and conditions available were highly relevant. "We should be told the nature of the package proposed if bail is being provided and we can decide whether to admit on those terms," he added.

"We are of the view that potentially it's a case where bail can be granted. It was never a case where bail was automatic, it was always a situation where a careful examination was required and the terms and conditions and full disclosure would be part of that," said the judge.

Mr Justice Birmingham then asked to hear "the shape of the package" being put forward.

Mr O'Higgins said they were consenting to "a suite of matters".

Mr John Fitzgerald SC, for the State, said it was the court's decision whether to grant bail to the applicant and went on to read the bail conditions to the court, which heard that Mr Phelan must enter his own bond of €50,000, while an independent surety of €50,000 was also required. Both of these amounts must be lodged in full.

Mr Fitzgerald also confirmed that Mr Phelan must surrender his US passport to gardai and undertake not to apply for any US passport, Irish Visa or any other form of travel documents. The US embassy is to be informed that Mr Phelan is on bail on serious charges and they must contact gardai if he applies for a passport or Visa.

He must also reside at an address approved by gardai, sign on daily at a named Garda Station between 9am and 9pm, obey a curfew of 10pm to 8am at the provided address, provide a mobile phone number to gardai within 24 hours of his release and keep it on him.

Furthermore, he must meet gardai within 24 hours of his release and provide access to all his Irish and foreign bank accounts.

He must stay out of Tallaght and out of his properties in Wexford and have no contact with prosecution witnesses in the case. He is not to leave the 26 counties or join a gun club or purchase any firearms.

Mr Fitzgerald said that the accused's sureties were to be approved in Cloverhill Prison on April 13.

Earlier, Mr Phelan was called by his defence counsel Mr O'Higgins to give evidence regarding his financial affairs. He took the stand a second time to tell his counsel that he was willing to consent to the bail conditions and abide by them. He said he understood that if he failed to comply then his bail could be revoked.

Mr Phelan told his barrister that he would attend court for any mentions of his case and that he would turn up for his trial.

He agreed that a document had been prepared for the court with respect to a number of particular properties and he had given certain undertakings and authorisations in that regard.

Mr O'Higgins said that his client had agreed not to report to Trinity College, where he lectures, for the next three weeks.

Mr Justice Birmingham delivered the judgment of the three-judge court, where he said it was their view that the High Court judge was entitled to approach the case on the basis that the applicant was facing charges of the utmost seriousness and the evidence of such was an incentive to abscond. The real issue for consideration was that Mr Phelan was regarded as a flight risk, he said.

"I have to say I don't believe the High Court judge received the assistance she was entitled to expect in that regard and there was a failure by the applicant to recognise that he had to be seen as a potential flight risk and what he could do," he said.

Referring to the applicant's sister's willingness to act as surety, Mr Justice Birmingham said the identity of a surety is a matter of some significance and that Mr Phelan's sister was prepared to undertake that responsibility. He said it was important for the applicant to honour his obligation to his sibling and not to cause her difficulties.

In addition, Mr Justice Birmingham said there was a concern about the failure of Mr Phelan to engage with areas of concern when the matter first came before the court but that matters had moved on significantly. A document had been prepared which set out in some detail the applicant's various sources of income and provided information as to his assets and liabilities.

Furthermore, the court had heard from Mr Phelan's solicitor Greg Ryan this week, who the judge said was a highly regarded solicitor in the city and who spoke about his personal and professional relations with the applicant.

"Mr Phelan gave an undertaking to accept and comply with bail conditions but secondly to deal with various property and asset issues in the manner described and that represents a significant development since we were first seized of the matter back on Tuesday morning," he highlighted.

Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice John Edwards and Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy said even offences of great seriousness enjoy a presumption of innocence and it wasn't a case where it would be "unthinkable" that Mr Phelan would be admitted on bail.

Mr Phelan was granted bail until his trial date, which will be fixed later.

The High Court heard last month that a witness told gardai that Mr Phelan shot Mr Conlon, who was unarmed, in the back of the head as he turned to run away after an altercation on farmland at the foot of the Dublin mountains.

The court heard, however, that Mr Phelan told gardai in interview that he accepted he shot Mr Conlon with the licensed firearm but believed he was under threat and was "terrified" at the time.

The High Court also heard it would be alleged that Mr Phelan had first "deliberately shot" Mr Conlon's dog with a legally held rifle without any forewarning.

A witness told gardai that the senior lawyer 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.

Defence Counsel, Mr O'Higgins, told the court that the tenor of Mr Phelan's statement to gardai was that the shooting was an accident, where he had crossed the gun over from left to right in an arc and was left "stunned" by Mr Conlon's injury.

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