The following extracts are taken from RTEs This Week on Sunday March 25th 2007.
It is an important post because it records the questions asked by a Supreme Court judge, Justice Hardiman, arising from the disgraceful Frank Shortt case.
Mr. Shortt was framed by two policemen and at 59 years of age placed in jail where he served a full term. The policemen in question have never been brought to justice.
The case stands as a permanent indictment on Ireland as a two bit, backward refuge for the incompetent and corrupt for so long as the questions asked by the judge remain unanswered.
“THE WORST FAILURE OF THE JUSTICE AND LEGAL SYSTEM IN THE HISTORY OF THE STATE”
Unexplained and troubling aspects of this case
“He was driven into a state of despair and for a period endured a dark night of the soul. His premises were burnt down by the IRA. He suffered intense feelings of shame and powerlessness, aggravated by his school going children being pilloried as the children of a drug dealer.
When, having served a sentence and suffered all the other consequences he endeavoured to have his conviction declared a miscarriage of justice, he was opposed with further perjured evidence by members of An Garda Siochana, including a superintendent.”
Questions that remain unanswered
How it came about that Mr. Shortt was returned for trial on serious criminal charges at the suit of the DPP even though it was conceded in the Court of Criminal Appeal that there was then no sufficient case against him on the documents which had been produced.
How, despite this state of affairs Mr. Shortt was offered a semi deal whereby the bulk of the charges would be dropped if he pleaded guilty to a single charge with only minor consequences.
How no alarm bells were set ringing by the sudden transformation of a very weak case into a very strong one by new statements by two members of An Garda Siochana containing material which they had inexplicably said nothing about until shortly before a trial date was fixed.
How, while unjustly imprisoned Mr. Shortt was offered (a deal), including early release if he would drop his appeal.
How a very important allegation of an admission of perjury by one of the Gardai involved from a credible source apparently escaped the attention of senior Gardai and prosecuting authorities for a considerable time. They did nothing about it, but the DPP while unaware of this important evidence nonetheless consented to the conviction being quashed for reasons yet to emerge.
Shiela McMahon, wife of Detective Garda McMahon told the Court of Criminal Appeal. ‘He told me that he had perjured himself in court and that he had done it for Kevin Lennon to help him get promotion.’ She stoutly denied that she was saying it for the first time and maintained in the face of skepticism from counsel and the court that she had given the same information to the Carty inquiry.
The court and the parties to the miscarriage of justice application had been given what was represented to be all the relevant papers from this inquiry and there was no mention either direct or indirect of this very significant allegation being made by Mrs. McMahon. But she appeared absolutely certain in court that she had made this allegation to Carty.
The court specifically asked counsel for the respondent. ‘The question is now a very simple one, is there in any shape or form a signed or unsigned note of mention of perjury by Mr. McMahon?
Counsel for the DPP, who was fully alive to the importance of the matter replied. ‘Not in any material we have from the Carty inquiry.’
The court then asked, is there in any shape or form in any Garda document a note of this lady mentioning the term perjury or words to that effect? Counsel replied. ‘Certainly not that I have or that I am aware of.
Most unfortunately and embarrassingly it transpires that Counsel’s instructions were grossly deficient. Later in the day a separate memorandum of the interview with Mrs. McMahon was found and in the words of the counsel for the state it does mention what the witness said is correct.
(So, the truth was known, according to Justice Hardiman, yet nothing happened)
While the Court of Criminal Appeal found that neither the Garda authorities nor the DPP had deliberately concealed the memorandum the fact that it was forgotten about and never acted upon is gravely disturbing. It should be said that Mrs. McMahon gave the account set out above to the Gardai only two months before the DPP consented to Mr. Shortt’s conviction being quashed.
Nevertheless, counsel for the Director told the Court of Criminal Appeal that her account had not influenced the Directors decision because, though he had received the memorandum, he had not read it at the time he took the decision to consent to the conviction being quashed.
This in turn means that the Director had formed the view that the conviction was unsafe or unsatisfactory on grounds unrelated to the Detective Garda’s confession to perjury. The court has no idea what these grounds were. Apart from that, it is very surprising to say the least that so dramatic an allegation was not followed up. It must surely have been communicated to the very highest levels of An Garda Siochana but nothing was done about it.
The remarkable gravity of the case has now being recognized by all who dealt with it. The learned president described what had happened as ‘an outrageous abuse of power.’ Counsel for the state on the hearing of the appeal said that Mr. Shortt’s case was the worst case of state oppression of a citizen of which the state’s defendants were aware.
The consequences to Mr. Francis Shortt were appalling and cry out for vindication. Even apart from the outrageous damage to that unfortunate man there must be grave public concern at the Gardai conspiracy against an innocent man and the calculated, fluent and plausible perjury which the Gardai engaged in with total indifference to humanity or justice.
He lost all hope and was reduced to a state of despair and at times clinical depression. He was released as a tainted and ruined man with his premises burnt by terrorists reacting to his conviction. Over and above the foregoing but related to some of his sufferings he was stigmatized as a drug criminal who had been caught, he suffered total loss of reputation He was painfully aware that he had few or no friends and that his family were suffering for his supposed misdeeds. In a very literal sense he was deliberately and maliciously degraded.
(When in prison, someone attempted to con him)
Someone in authority, very cynically arranged that he be offered early release in return for an admission of guilt. He was painfully aware that he had few or no friends and that his family was suffering for his supposed misdeeds. Mr. Shortt was stigmatized, imprisoned, suffered the loss of his reputation his business and his ability to provide for his family.
In a very literal sense he was deliberately and maliciously degraded. The outrageousness of what was done, the very long period required to discover it, the failure of An Garda Siochana itself expressly to acknowledge and apologise for the misdeeds of its members render it absolutely necessary to make a substantial award of exemplary damages.
(For too long Garda evidence had been treated in court as virtually unchallengeable)
Like most lawyers of my generation I have not infrequently heard trial judges in cases where there was a conflict of evidence between Gardai and defence witnesses inviting the jury to consider what the Gardai would have to gain by lying thereby putting their careers on the line or some such phrase.
If this case and other like it teach anything it is that it does no favour to an institution like the Gardai to accord their members a special level of presumptive credence. On the contrary, this attitude offers a temptation to unscrupulous Gardai who may assume that most of the time the public, the media, judges and juries will accord credence to the Garda account even if it is in certain ways rather improbable.
This case plainly demonstrates that some Gardai will lie simply to benefit their own careers and lie again; even on oath to avoid the consequences of having told the first set of lies and so on.
It should also be noted that the two Gardai could not have succeeded in their ‘activities’ without, at least, the passive cooperation of many public servants, some at a very senior level.