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Court of Appeal

Man jailed for alleged machete attack has conviction overturned due to garda CCTV failure

Gardaí failed to pull CCTV footage of the alleged attack.

A MAN WHO was jailed for ten years for causing serious harm to an elderly man in Limerick with a machete has had his conviction overturned due to a failure by gardaí to seek out CCTV footage of the attack.

At Limerick Circuit Criminal Court in November 2021, John O’Donoghue was convicted of assault causing serious harm to Willie O’Driscoll Sr, who was then aged 74, in Bothar Buí, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, on 17 December 2017.

O’Donoghue (54), with an address at Lower Main Street, Rathkeale, was also convicted of violent disorder on the same date and location.

A jury unanimously convicted O’Donoghue on the assault causing serious harm and on the violent disorder charge but found him not guilty of a charge of the production of an article – a machete – during the course of a dispute and of making threats to kill.

O’Donoghue had pleaded not guilty on all counts.

He was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for the assault causing serious harm and to a concurrent eight-year term for the violent disorder offence.

At the appeal hearing, Michael Bowman SC, for Mr O’Donoghue, said the prosecution failed in their duty to seek out “crucial and paramount” CCTV evidence in the case.

Bowman said that no CCTV had been retrieved by gardaí even though there were 30 cameras in the area, according to an engineer the defence hired themselves.

Bowman submitted that a woman who lived in a house in the area with CCTV cameras covering the location of the incident, which involved multiple individuals and vehicles at a nearby yard area, said the equipment was operational at the time and told canvassing gardaí they could view it. However, the Court of Appeal heard that gardaí never returned to do so.

At the Court of Appeal today, Justice Tara Burns said the three-judge court would uphold O’Donoghue’s complaint “regarding the failure of the trial judge to direct an acquittal”.

She said this was on the basis of an unfairness arising in the investigation which deprived him of a “reasonable prospect of a defence”. Justice Burns said it was an “established duty” of gardaí to seek out and preserve CCTV.

Justice Burns said no evidence was submitted by the State to rebut the woman’s statement that she had operational CCTV fixed at a height to her house on the day and that gardaí had called to her house and had been granted permission to view the footage.

“It seems to us that there were significant failings regarding the investigation into CCTV in this case and that a realistic prospect of a defence existed in relation to this missing CCTV,” said Justice Burns, who said the court would quash the convictions.

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Author
Paul Neilan and Isabel Hayes.