a NEW purpose built facility for the secure storage of exhibits in criminal cases will be built in Roxboro next year.
The announcement by the head of the Limerick garda division, Chief Superintendent David Sheahan, comes after it was revealed by the Limerick Leader this week that a number of exhibits relating to cases were destroyed in a fire at Limerick’s garda headquarters at Henry Street nearly two years ago.
During a sitting at Limerick District Court it was heard that a fire in the boiler room downstairs in the station destroyed the exhibits, which could be crucial in securing a prosecution in a number of criminal cases in the city.
The court heard that potentially a significant number of exhibits were being kept there, but Chief Superintendent Sheahan rejected the assumption that further exhibits had been destroyed.
Chief Supt Sheahan says the new property and management store which will be located at Roxboro Road garda station is due to open early in the New Year. The facility will be used for the storage of evidence gathered by gardai across the Limerick garda division. Similar storage facilities have been rolled out in garda divisions elsewhere in the country and works to build the new facility in Limerick have been ongoing for almost a year.
“All the logistics have been done in the last week or ten days. We were running behind because we couldn’t get a suitable location but the suitable location has been found and it has been decked out to the standard that is required,” he said.
Last week Judge Eugene O’Kelly said the lack of appropriate storage in Limerick city “beggars belief”.
Judge O’Kelly made his comments at Limerick Court during a contested burglary case, which ran to three hours, after it emerged the exhibits in that case had been destroyed. It was discovered in the final moments of the case that all the exhibits in the case had been destroyed in a fire in the station in January 2011.
At the time, the garda station had to be evacuated and two men were hospitalised after working on the boiler, where they were converting the heating system to gas. The building was declared safe two hours later, but the destruction of these exhibits during the fire had not come to light until now.
The court was told that as the exhibits room in Henry Street garda station was full, the exhibits in this case and others, were placed downstairs in the boiler room, where the boiler later exploded on January 21 of that year. Garda Michael Houlihan, exhibits officer attached to Mary Street station in Limerick, said as far as he was aware no official list was made of the exhibits kept in the boiler room, and admitted during cross-examination that there was “possibly” a significant number of exhibits placed there.
Garda Houlihan said he didn’t realise these exhibits were “missing” until he was asked to produce them on the first day of the hearing.
While Judge O’Kelly praised the work of the gardai in this investigation, he said the exhibits “came upon an unsatisfactory, sad and sorry end” after they were transported back to Limerick in June 2010 from the forensics science laboratory in Dublin, where they were “casually and carelessly dealt with [in Limerick]”. “In the absence of physical exhibits there is an insurmountable gap in the chain of evidence,” he said, adding that the lack of such evidence could pose a “real risk of an unfair trial and conviction”.
A man charged with burglary at the Tuscany bistro in Newtown, Annacotty, on January 11, 2010, had the case against him dismissed.