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DPP employee goes on trial for allegedly sharing information about arrest of suspect in dissident's murder

The service officer is accused of breaking the Official Secrets Act.

Image: PA Archive/PA Images

A CIVIL servant in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) gave a tip-off about the imminent arrest of a suspect for the murder of dissident republican Peter Butterly, a court has heard.

35 year-old father-of-three Jonathan Lennon, from Clonee, Dublin 15, has pleaded not guilty to breaking the Official Secrets Act in relation to criminal proceedings resulting from the murder of Peter Butterly.

The service officer has gone on trial before Judge John Hughes at and is accused of leaking sensitive information.

The judge was told that the defendant allegedly alerted a third-party that another person, who was a suspect, was about to be arrested after having a “nosey” in his file at work.

The deceased was fatally shot in view of students waiting for their school bus on the afternoon of 6 March, 2013 outside The Huntsman Inn in Gormanston, Co Meath.

The accused has been charged with four offences contrary to Section Four and 13 of the Official Secrets Act 1963, as amended by Section 48 of the Freedom of Information Act 1997.

It is alleged that on 7 September, 2017 and the following day, at a place unknown in Dublin, the accused communicated – without authorisation – official information within the possession, custody or control of the DPP, relating to the prosecution of individuals arising from the murder of Peter Butterly on 6 March, 2013.

Post room employee

Opening the case for the prosecution Michael Delaney SC (with Dara Hayes BL) gave the judge the background to the charges.

He said the accused previously worked in the Department of Defence and was accepted to take up a service officer’s position in the office of the DPP, on Infirmary Road, in Dublin.

He was working in the post room, where he commenced employment on 3 January, 2017 and it was his role to collect, deliver and circulate files in the building.

There was a file relating to the murder of Peter Butterly from an internal feud in an organisation styling itself as the IRA.

Counsel said this led to a number of trials and some men had been convicted of the murder, while others had been convicted of firearms offences or IRA membership.

The accused grew up in the Corduff area of Blanchardstown and from playing football he knew one of the suspects, counsel said in his opening speech.

‘Republican sympathies’

A search of the home of the accused under warrant later took place in September 2018, counsel said.

Various items and memorabilia recovered there suggested the service officer “had republican sympathies”.

Counsel told the judge that it would be fair to say that the accused was not well disposed to the man at the time of these offences.

On the morning of 7 September, 2017 a directing officer in the DPP’s office had generated a letter for senior counsel referring to five suspects.

The letter mentioned them being brought before the Special Criminal Court the following morning, 8 September, 2017.

The letter contained legal advice pertinent to the investigation into the role of the suspect.

It was the prosecution’s case that the accused read that letter on the afternoon of 7 September, 2017 before it was brought to the post room to be dispatched to senior counsel.

Counsel said that it would be the State’s case that the accused told other men about the forthcoming arrest and Special Criminal Court appearance of the suspect the following day.

Opened letter

He also said that there was circumstantial evidence relating to the steps taken with the file, CCTV evidence of the accused, text messages and statements given by the defendant.

The accused was arrested twice and interviewed eight times, the judge heard.

The letter was generated on at 10.40am on 7 September, 2017 by directing officer Orla Keenan and was collected from her desk at 2.15pm.

The accused was one of three service officers working that afternoon, and the letter had to be collected by one of them.

CCTV showed him looking at a folded letter as he walked through the building, counsel said.

When questioned by gardaí, the accused was shown footage and accepted that he opened the letter to have a have a look, “or to use his own language, ‘to have nosey’,” counsel added.

Cemetery meeting

The accused’s phone was seized and forensically examined, and texts gleaned from it were about a meeting with a man in a graveyard in Mulhuddart.

The accused was to meet him and pay €20 for Irish Republican Prisoner Welfare Association badges.

There was a text message the previous day about arranging the meeting, but counsel said significantly on the next day a text message on the phone of the accused confirmed the meeting.

Counsel told the court that this said: “Cool, I’ll even have better things to give you.”

It was alleged that there was another exchange of texts, from which the prosecution can say the accused disclosed information about the imminent arrest at the cemetery meeting, the barrister said.

When officers went to arrest the suspect the next day “he appeared to be expecting gardaí”.

The court heard the man was fully dressed standing at his front door holding his coat and cap, but did not have a mobile phone on him at that moment.

Counsel said there had been a text message from the accused to another man with the same information about the imminent arrest.

The next day there was a news item about the case in the Special Criminal Court.

Lured to death

It was alleged that the accused also sent a text message to another named man, which said “I think it’s just membership” and “just seen file, membership and waiting for directions for other charges”.

It was the State’s case that the accused was again disclosing confidential information without authorisation.

The court heard that the accused also sent a text saying that Peter Butterly was lured by a friend to his death.

Witness Orla Keenan, who had drafted the file, said she had used the phrase “lured” in the letter to describe the murder.

She said the file was yellow and marked for dispatch and return, and that the defendant would have collected it but did not have permission to read the documents.

Witnesses from the DPP’s human resource department told the court that the defendant had gone through security clearances before he started working in the office, and that he had been told he was subject to the Official Secrets Act.

He also had access to the computer network but not the directing officers’ computer files.

He was also told not to tell many people where he worked because that could “lead to difficult questions”.

The trial continues tomorrow.

Comments have been closed as legal proceedings are ongoing.

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Tom Tuite

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