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Dublin: 10°C Thursday 21 October 2021

State scientists were 'trying to do down' serial killer Nash, appeals court told

Nash was found guilty in 2015 of murdering the two women.

Mark Nash.
Mark Nash.
Image: RollingNews.ie

SCIENTISTS WORKING FOR the State’s Forensic Science Lab were “put to the pin of their collar” for allegedly trying “to do down” serial killer Mark Nash during his trial for the “cold-case” killing of two women, prosecution lawyers have told the Court of Appeal.

Nash was found guilty in 2015 of murdering the two women, whose mutilated bodies were found in sheltered accommodation in Grangegorman twenty years ago.

The 44-year-old, who is originally from England but has 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.

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

Nash had already been serving life since October 1998 for murdering two people in Ballintober, Castlerea in Roscommon and leaving a woman seriously injured in mid-August 1997. The four murders were committed within the space of five months.

Opening an appeal against his conviction for the Grangegorman murders yesterday, Nash’s lead senior counsel, Hugh Hartnett SC, told the Court of Appeal that it was an “extraordinary and unusual case” because another man, the late Dean Lyons, had “confessed”.

A short time later, while Nash was in detention on foot of the Roscommon double killing, he admitted to having carried out the Grangegorman murders five months earlier.

This sent a “tremor” through Garda Headquarters, the court heard, and various senior officers were tasked with examining how two people were confessing to the same murder.

Dean Lyons died in 2000 and a jacket, which had been seized from Nash’s home during the investigation in the 1990s, was tested and nothing of probative value was found. Nearly ten years later, and with advances in science, DNA was found around the button threads of Nash’s jacket and the DPP decided to prosecute.


Mr Hartnett said the two main planks to the prosecution’s case were the admissions made by Nash and the DNA evidence.

He said the scientists from the State’s Forensic Science Laboratory agreed that there was a risk of contamination but that it was low. Their opinion that the risk was low was based on the absence of other profiles or mixed profiles on the jacket. “But we established that there were other profiles,” Mr Hartnett said.

He said precautions taken by the State’s Forensic Science Laboratory in 1997 were not as acute as they were today and it emerged during cross-examination that the victims’ bed clothing had been brushed down in the same room the jacket was forensically examined six weeks later.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Brendan Grehan SC, told the court today that contamination could only be explained by a “mind boggling series of coincidences” and that the “contamination issue” was “talked into the case” because the defence didn’t have anything else.

He said the defence adopted a “scatter gun” approach. The gardaí were “attacked” on the basis they had been inept. Many of the scientists were “put to the pin of their collar, up the hill and down the dale” that they were involved in “some sort of grand conspiracy up in the Forensic Science Laboratory to do down Mr Nash”.

He said it was claimed that one of the defence experts was mislead but “nothing could be further from the truth”. Her report into procedures at the lab set out a table with room numbers, dates and names of who examined various items.

Any suggestion that this was hidden from her or that she wasn’t told about it was “absolute nonsense”.

Mr Grehan said the “whole point” about the mixed profile was that it could not be identified. It was “entirely wrong and misleading” to suggest it was the DNA of other persons.

Case against Nash

It wasn’t just a stateable case against Nash, it was a “coercive, compelling case”, Mr Grehan said.

He said blood would have gotten all over the jacket Nash was wearing the night he committed the murder and the prosecution theory was that it was subsequently cleaned. It was explained that some dry cleaners cover buttons with foil to protect them from solvents.

He said the particles on Nash’s jacket found to match the DNA of the deceased were inside the lining of the jacket, protected in itself, and the other was found on the threads of the buttons.

If Nash hadn’t committed these murders, Mr Grehan said the Englishman was the “most unfortunate person” to have lived around the corner, to have been alone on the night in question and to have made admissions combined with maps and plans. He was unlucky to have owned a pair of Caterpillar boots with the same footprint found at the scene, unlucky that his jacket was found to have the DNA of one of the deceased women and “doubly unlucky” to have had the DNA of
the second deceased woman on it.

Mr Grehan said there were significant challenges for the prosecution in the case and that the missing witnesses was a problem for them and not the defence. Dean Lyons was the obvious one because he couldn’t be called to give evidence that he did not commit those murders and to explain why he had confessed.

He said there was a “generalised complaint” about late disclosure but disclosure began in 2009 and the first response of the defence was to go to the High Court for a judicial review on “everything under the sun”.

From the very beginning, he said the prosecution made clear to the defence the procedures in relation to disclosure. Internal garda reports prepared in contemplation of a prosecution were privileged and “for very good reason” were not handed over “willy nilly”.

What was missing in all of the complaints about late disclosure was an explanation from the defence to say ‘because we didn’t have that, we weren’t able to do this’. He said the defence were unable to prove a nexus to some unfairness.

Bigger fish

Mr Grehan said the gardaí in Galway wanted to speak to Nash about what they had arrested him for – the Roscommon murders, “the biggest crime they had down there in a long time”. They had “bigger fish to fry”, he said, when Nash’s solicitor told them he wanted to talk to them about the murders in Dublin.

It was a very unusual situation that Nash was providing the gardaí with the evidence to enable them to suspect he might have been involved in the Grangegorman murders. If they hadn’t recorded his admissions to the Grangegorman murders, “extraordinary criticisms would have rained down” on them.

He said the trial judge’s ruling on the DNA issue was crystal clear and he had given the defence the benefit of the doubt. He said the trial judge was “careful, courteous and conscientous” and he dealt with every application that was made.

Mr Grehan said he had a difficulty with the suggestion that scientific evidence was somehow different to circumstantial evidence. It was not the law to say scientific evidence had to clear a 100% threshold of certainty for it to go into the mix.

He said scientific evidence is expressed in terms of “supports, strongly supports or weak” and that in evidence, all scientists can say is that there is a DNA match and that the probability of it being from another source is mathematically unlikely.

Mr Grehan will continue making submissions in the three-judge court before Mr Justice Alan Mahon, Mr Justice John Edwards and Mr Justice Michael White tomorrow.

About the author:

Ruaidhrí Giblin

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