THE “breakthrough” in the investigation into the murder of Shane Geoghegan had come over two years after the event with the decision of April Collins to give evidence against John Dundon, according to Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns.
This followed the break-up in early 2011 of Ms Collins’ 10-year relationship with the accused’s younger brother Gerard Dundon, with whom she had three children.
Evidence was heard during the trial of John Dundon that members of the Collins family were being threatened and intimidated by members of the Dundon family after that break-up.
She had made a statement to gardai about this intimidation on April 8, 2011 and subsequently contacted her liaison officer Garda James Hourihan to tell him that she knew “some stuff about murders”.
Mr Justice Kearns said the break-up of the relationship may have led to “an alienation between April Collins and the Dundon family, such as had the effect of freeing her from the bonds of silence and secrecy which necessarily would have formed part of her association with the Dundon family”.
“The Court considers it likely that the break-up of that relationship and the ugly events which followed it was the trigger factor in persuading April Collins to come forward to make statements about intimidation by John and Wayne Dundon and then, later on, the Shane Geoghegan murder. However, that fact – if fact it be - does not in any way disqualify her as a competent witness. In this sort of situation there is almost invariably a trigger factor or event which breaks down the wall of silence and permits a witness to finally come forward.”
At the time she had given a statement to the gardai about John Dundon’s involvement in the murder, April Collins herself was facing a sentence for threatening Lorna Heffernan, a relative of state witness Mark Heffernan - whose evidence in an extortion trial had been key in securing convictions against Gerard Dundon and others.
It had been put to her during the trial by Brendan Nix SC, for Dundon, that she had entered a “deal” with gardai that she would get lenient treatment in that case in return for giving evidence against John Dundon.
This Mr Justice Kearns did not accept.
“The rhetorical question, or allegation, of a deal whereby April Collins had a ‘charmed life’ and thereby escaped a custodial sentence is entirely unsupported by any evidence. Indeed, any such ‘deal’ would have of necessity had to involve not merely the gardaí but the presiding judge who imposed the particular sentence on April Collins following her guilty plea to the offence of threatening Lorna Heffernan. She received a significant sentence for that offence, albeit that it was suspended. The Court notes that in the course of the evidence in this case it was told that women who came to the Collins family home, including the girlfriends of John and Wayne Dundon, and who were said to be making threats with pickaxes, hatchets and other weapons, were also given suspended sentences in their cases so the Court is satisfied that this rhetorical question or allegation is unsubstantiated,” Mr Justice Kearns said.
He then addressed events in the hours leading up to the murder of Shane Geoghegan on November 9, 2008. April Collins had knowledge that there was a plan to kill John McNamara, the true target in the plot, that night but had failed to mention this to gardai who had stopped her that day.
Mr Justice Kearns agreed with Mr Nix that this had been “reprehensible” on the part of April Collins but he said that he also understood her explanation that she was “terrified that she would be killed if she had done so”.
He went on to describe Ms Collins’ evidence as “compelling and truthful”.
“Plainly terrified of the accused, she was nonetheless steadfast in her account of what was said and what was done. She did not present herself as some sort of innocent and admitted to her own wrongdoings in the past and provided explanations when asked why she said and did certain things. She said she now lived in fear for her life and was under Garda protection 24/7.”
The three prosecution witnesses - April Collins, her sister Lisa and her partner Christopher McCarthy - all had knowledge of the events being planned. McCarthy, a cousin of John Dundon’s, and Lisa Collins had been involved in stealing a car used in the murder. All three witnesses could be regarded as accomplices and the court was aware of the dangers of relying on their evidence alone.
But the judge said there was substantial corroborating evidence built up by the state in terms of CCTV of people and vehicles from public places and businesses before and after the killing; from Garda sightings of John Dundon, gunman Barry Doyle and others involved; from phone records and from independent Garda witnesses.
Evidence such as CCTV footage of Doyle and Dundon together on Cruises Street was “of great value which must have taken hundreds of police hours to analyse and recover”, said the judge.