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Grangegorman murders: Damages claim made by killer dismissed by European Court of Human Rights

Mark Nash is currently serving four life sentences at Midlands Prison in Portlaoise.

File photo. Mark Nash in 1998.
File photo. Mark Nash in 1998.
Image: RollingNews.ie

A DAMAGES CLAIM by serial killer Mark Nash, who is serving life sentences for the notorious Grangegorman murders, has been declared inadmissible by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on the grounds of delay.

Nash, who stood trial for the murders 18 years after he carried them out, had complained that his right to a trial within a reasonable time had been breached and had sought damages.

In its judgment which was published today, the Strasbourg Court unanimously held that Nash’s complaints were lodged more than six months after the last Supreme Court decision in Ireland and therefore were inadmissible because of this delay.

In 2015 Nash was found guilty of murdering two women in Dublin, whose mutilated bodies were found in sheltered accommodation in Grangegorman 23 years ago. Nash had already been serving life sentences since October 1998 for murdering two people in Roscommon in mid-August 1997.

The four murders were committed within the space of five months. He is currently serving the four life sentences at the Midlands Prison, Portlaoise, County Laois.

The 47-year-old, who is originally from England but who had last addresses at Prussia Street and Clonliffe Road in Dublin, had pleaded not guilty at the Central Criminal Court to the murder of Sylvia Sheils (59) and Mary Callanan (61) between 6 March and 7 March 1997.

The prosecution case presented by Brendan Grehan SC was based on Nash’s own admissions and DNA evidence which connected him to the two deceased women.

A Central Criminal Court jury unanimously found Nash guilty after four hours of deliberations following a 48-day trial and he was then given mandatory life sentence for the murders by Mr Justice Carroll Moran on 20 April 2015.

The Court of Appeal upheld the murderer’s conviction for the “cold-case” killing of Ms Sheils and Ms Callanan in May 2018, which became known as the “Grangegorman murders”.

Mr Justice Alan Mahon, who sat with Mr Justice John Edwards and Mr Justice Michael White, said it was the “strong view” of the three-judge court that Nash’s trial for the Grangegorman murders was “entirely fair” and it “produced a verdict well justified by the evidence”. The Supreme Court refused leave to appeal further.

Giving judgment in the three-judge court, Mr Justice Mahon said the gruesome murder of two vulnerable and defenceless middle aged women had attracted enormous attention at the time and understandably so.

It was not just the cruelty of the murder which attracted such attention but also the fact that the two women were brutally murdered and mutilated in circumstances where they presented “absolutely no risk or threat to the killer”.

The level of violence perpetrated on them was senseless and was so fierce that perhaps the victims’ own appreciation of their fate was short lived, the judge said.

Post mortem examinations established that they had received multiple stab wounds and that their bodies had been gratuitously mutilated. Dr John Harbison, the then-State Pathologist, stated in his report that the “injuries were outside my experience in 26 years of pathology practice”.

The ECHR (Fifth Section) judgment which was published today said it may only deal with cases after all domestic remedies have been exhausted and within a six month period from the date of the final decision in the process of exhaustion of domestic remedies.

Nash’s application for damages for pre-trial prosecutorial delay was lodged with the Court on 4 January 2018. The killer complained that his right to a trial within a reasonable time had been breached.

He pointed to the 12-year period which had elapsed between him first being questioned as a suspect in the Grangegorman murders in 1997 and the decision to formally charge him with the murders in 2009. This had followed the discovery of new evidence which resulted from the availability of enhanced DNA testing.

Nash had sought before the Irish courts to prohibit his trial and obtain damages for breach of his Constitutional and Convention rights.

The Irish High Court had refused him relief and the Supreme Court had upheld that refusal. This had cleared the way for his trial to proceed in January 2015. Subsequently, the Supreme Court ruled separately on the damages part of his claim which it dismissed.

In its ruling, the ECHR found that the Supreme Court had dismissed Nash’s damages judgment on O26 ctober 2016, more than 14 months prior to the application being lodged to the court.

The decision of the Supreme Court of 13 July 2017 dismissing Nash’s application to re-visit the final order of the Supreme Court did not have the effect of interrupting or re-starting the running of the six-month time period.

“If it were the case that an applicant could apply to a court to rectify a judgment at any stage in order to re-start the six month period, that would subvert the purpose of the six month rule,” the judgment stated. As a result, Nash’s application to re-visit the damages claim was dismissed by the ECHR.

About the author:

Alison O'Riordan

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