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Statement by Commissioner Murphy on the 8/2/10

Statement by Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy regarding witness access to a recent criminal trial.

 “In response to media questions about the circumstances surrounding the access to the courts of a witness in the recent trial, The Director of Public Prosecutions -V- Eamonn Lillis, I undertook to deal with the issue when the trial had concluded.

Arrangements were made to facilitate the access of one witness to and from the court through an entrance at the rear of the courts complex. This decision was made with all due regard to the particular needs and circumstances of the witness including certain issues which arose prior to the trial commencing.

I am advised that part of the arrangements put in place for the witness included transport to and from the court. I am further advised that the driver of the garda vehicle carrying the witness away from the court observed a car in pursuit and radioed local gardaí to check the bona fides of its occupants. When local gardaí made efforts to stop the car, it diverted down a side road.

The decision made in this case was an operational one which I fully support. I believe that the circumstances which gave rise to the decision were peculiar to the case and are unlikely to arise again with any regularity. I would however support such a decision if the need did arise again in the future.

On a daily basis An Garda Síochána appeals for information and for witnesses to serious crimes. We are grateful for the assistance we receive from the public without whom wemay often be unable to progress an investigation.

Private citizens step forward to help us in our task of bringing the perpetrators of serious crimes to justice. Very often this means that they must give evidence in open court. Many witnesses take this in their stride. For others it can be a difficult, sometimes distressing or traumatic experience.  

A private citizen performs a public service and fulfils a duty to the community when they give evidence in court. They do so in sight of their peers, the community and the media who can report (with certain exceptions) most if not all of what they say. While giving evidence in a criminal trial can be said to constitute a public duty, giving evidence does not in my view make a private citizen a public figure. When a witness’s role in a trial has concluded, they should be free to resume their lives without intrusion.

For some time now I have been asked about the difficulties of investigating and prosecuting murders and other serious crimes where fear prevents the community from offering information or evidence to gardaí. In the main, this fear is born out of concern for physical or personal safety. It would be a grave development if individuals were also to be dissuaded from contacting gardaí with valuable information or evidence because of an anxiety or fear that their privacy would be the price exacted for their contribution.

For our part, we in An Garda Síochána will continue to deal with these matters on a case by case basis, bearing in mind our operational responsibilities and our obligation to vindicate the rights of the community when wrongs are committed against it.

Finally, I note the comments of the presiding judge in this trial about media coverage of this case. These are all matters which in my view are worthy of further discussion. I look forward to discussing them with the representatives of the National Newspapers of Ireland with whom I have scheduled a meeting in the near future at their request.”


Fachtna Murphy

Garda Commissioner

8 February 2010