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Circuit Criminal Court

Garda witness denies error compromised preservation of scene after alleged Roscommon farm attack

Four men are accused of taking part in an attack on the repossessed farm outside Strokestown, Co Roscommon over five years ago.

A GARDA WITNESS in the Roscommon eviction assault trial has denied that an error made by a garda investigator cast a question over the credibility of the preservation of the scene.

Four men are on trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court accused of taking part in an attack on the repossessed farm outside Strokestown, Co Roscommon over five years ago.

The property was repossessed on 11 December 2018 and several security men were left to guard the 30-acre estate.

It is the State’s case that five days later, at around 5am on 16 December 2018, a group of approximately 30 armed men, some wearing balaclavas, arrived at the rural property and attacked four of the security guards present.

Patrick Sweeney (44) of High Cairn, Ramelton, Co Donegal, Martin O’Toole (58) of Stripe, Irishtown, Claremorris, Co Mayo, Paul Beirne (56) of Croghan, Boyle, Co Roscommon and David Lawlor (43) of Bailis Downs, Navan, Co Meath have pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

Each man is charged with the same 17 charges. They are separately charged with false imprisonment of and assault causing harm to Ian Gordon, Mark Rissen, John Graham, and Gary McCourtney at Falsk, Strokestown on 16 December 2018.

Each is also charged with aggravated burglary, as well as four charges of arson in relation to a car and three vans which were allegedly set alight.

The four are also each charged with criminal damage to a door of a house, violent disorder, robbery of a wristwatch from John Graham and, finally, causing unnecessary suffering to an animal by causing or permitting an animal to be struck on the head.

On day nine of the trial, Garda Ray Greenan, a scenes of crime examiner, told the court he arrived at the scene sometime around 9.30am on the day of the incident. He said his job was to identify and place into exhibit bags any items that may be of evidential value.

In his evidence, he identified of a number of white cable ties found around the grounds of the property. He also identified a slash hook, a wooden pole, and two halves of a broken hurl.

He also identified a wooden handle with nail through it and flush of the pole. He said he identified a number of “blood like substances” at the outside a front window, at the  footpath near the front door, at a gulley in the driveway and on the rear bumper of Vauxhall Astra.

He said he took swabs of each of these substances and lodged these at his office in Longford. He said that in March 2019 these swabs were sent for analysis to Forensic Science Ireland

Gda Greenan said he took 150 photographs at the scene. He identified in evidence six burnt out vehicles; a Renault Clio car, a BMW car, a Ford Transit van, two VW Transporter vans and a Mercedes Sprinter van.

Under cross-examination from Maria Brosnan BL, for Beirne, Gda Greenan agreed that in his contemporaneous notes made at the scene and a statement made six months after the incident he stated there were five burnt out vehicles at the scene.

He said that he must have “inadvertently not included in his note…taken on the day” the fact that there were two VW Transporter vans.

Garda Mark Lawless told the trial that at some point on day of December, he joined Gda Greenan at the scene.

Shane O’Callaghan BL, defending Beirne, put it to Gda Lawless that Gda Greenan was the lead investigator in charge of preserving the scene and the fact that he missed out on a vehicle “was a pretty massive oversight”.

Gda Lawless said it was quite a large crime scene and that Gda Greenan “made an error in his notes”.

O’Callaghan put it Gda Lawless that the error “casts a question mark over the veracity and the credibility of the preservation of the entire scene”. Gda Lawless said he accepted “it was a large mistake in physical terms”.

Counsel submitted that “he was the lead investigator, the person who was there before you arrive” and that “such a glaring oversight” meant he could also make errors about “several other things”.

Gda Lawless said he didn’t accept that, and said he believed Gda Greenan was concentrating on evidence that could be taken from the scene.

The witness told Anne Rowland SC, prosecuting, that Gda Greenan took all the photographs handed to the jury and these photographs showed the six burnt out vehicles. He agreed that Gda Greenan had made no attempt to hide these images.

The trial continues before Judge Martina Baxter and a jury.

Garda Shane Riddell told the jury that he was on duty on the night as the official observer in a marked patrol car and that at around 5.30am there was a call from control about an incident at Falsk.

He said when his car arrived at the scene, approximately 20 minutes later, fire brigade and ambulance paramedics were treating people for injuries. He said the air was quite thick with smoke and he observed damage to the windows of the house and blood on the driveway.

He said he spoke to a security guard who “appeared to be in a state of shock” and was concerned to ascertain if he needed medical attention. Under cross-examination from Seán Rafter BL, for O’Toole, he agreed that this man refused to give his name.

He agreed also that while at the scene he didn’t “jot down” any notes in his official garda notebook. He told Rafter “my primary concern was for people who may have sustained injuries”.

He told Brosnan that when he made an official statement in March 2019 he based this on his memory of events.

The jury were also given medical evidence of the injuries that Rissen was treated for at the Midlands Regional Hospital in Mullingar, Co Westmeath in December 2018.

The court heard that a two centimetre wound to his right shin was treated with three sutures. Rissen was also treated for soft tissue injuries to his left hand, back, face and head.

In September 2019, a consultant doctor noted that there was no evidence that Rissen suffered any post traumatic stress.

In earlier evidence, and while under cross-examination from counsel for the defence, Mark Rissen said that when he first started working with GS Agencies, he believed that they were correctly licenced.

He said he was not aware that the company has since been convicted in Roscommon District Court for not having proper licences.

“It was an error,” said Rissen, adding that he has not worked for GS Agencies since that day and does not even work in the security industry anymore.

“If they were working illegally, I think it’s wrong,” he said, adding that he tries “not to think about GS Agencies one way or another, because I’m trying to move on.”

“It was a deeply horrific event, I needed to get on with my life,” Rissen said.

He said he had not been told a lot about GS Agencies before starting the job and that he was just “trying to make a few bob” as his daughter was going to college.

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Declan Brennan and Jessica Magee