A FIRE in Henry Street garda station nearly two years ago destroyed crucial exhibits for a number court cases, it has emerged at Limerick District Court.
During a contested burglary case, which ran to three hours and involved seven witnesses, it was discovered in the final moments of the case that all the exhibits in the case had been destroyed in a fire in Limerick’s garda headquarters in January 2011.
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, said no 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.
Judge Eugene O’Kelly said it “beggars belief” that there was not a safe place for the storage of such key evidence in Limerick city. While the judge 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 from the forensics science laboratory in Dublin, where they were “casually and carelessly dealt with”.
“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” and that “any conviction would be unsafe”.
One of the key pieces of physical evidence in the case was the footwear worn by the alleged burglar, after gardai found distinctive footprints in the snow leading away from the restaurant which had been broken into. A plastercast was made of the defendant’s shoes, but these were destroyed in the fire, along with other tagged bags of evidence, containing tracksuit pants, a hoodie, Adidas runners, and a beanie hat.
Gerard Molloy, 30, of Griannan, Westbury, pleaded not guilty to a burglary at Tuscany bistro in Newtown, Annacotty, on January 11, 2010. Over €2,000 worth of damage was caused in the premises, after a burglar smashed a back window, and broke a bathroom sink which flooded the property. The charge against him was dismissed.