A man who has been in jail for most of his adult life, most of which was for dealing drugs from Portlaoise Prison, has asked forgiveness from the mother of the man he killed in 2001.
Brian Rattigan, who was accompanied in court by four prison officers wearing stab vests, also called on God to protect her son, ahead of being sentenced for his manslaughter next month.
A prosecutor earlier told a court that the DPP had accepted a plea to manslaughter from Rattigan ho was previously convicted of murdering the 21-year-old, as the case’s ‘frailties’ were likely to render the success of another murder trial ‘questionable’.
Pauline Walley SC was addressing the Central Criminal Court on Thursday during his sentence hearing for killing his former friend, Declan Gavin.
Rattigan was back before the court for his sentence hearing. Dressed in a light blue jacket, navy trousers and a navy tie, he wore a beard and glasses, with his hair gelled back.
The court heard of his criminal record but also about his achievements in prison including acting in Cinderella. He had also obtained a diploma and certificates.
The court heard that Mr Gavin was stabbed to death outside an Abrakebabra on Crumlin Road in Dublin in the early hours of 25th August 2001. He received two knife wounds, one to the hand but a fatal one to the heart.
Rattigan went on trial for his murder twice in 2009. The first jury couldn’t reach a verdict but a second jury convicted him. However, that conviction was successfully appealed last year.
The former gangland figure was due to go on trial for the crime again next month, but the State accepted his plea to manslaughter when he entered it on arraignment in October.
Ms Walley reminded Mr Justice Michael White that the accused had pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter.
“The prosecution indicated that, given the exceptional features now associated with this case, the director would accept this plea to manslaughter because of those features,” she said.
Chief Superintendent Brian Sutton agreed with Ms Walley that the case had ‘a complex litigation history’. Various judicial reviews had been taken from 2005 to 2008 before the two trials got underway in 2009.
He’d made an unsuccessful appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal in 2013 before his successful appeal to the Supreme Court in 2017.
Chief Supt Sutton spent much of the afternoon summarising the facts of the case. These included a man in a balaclava being witnessed stabbing Mr Gavin, who retreated into the safety of Abrakebabra. The evidence against Rattigan included his prints being found next to Mr Gavin’s blood on the restaurant’s door, through which he had tried to chase his victim.
Chief Supt Sutton said that over 300 witness statements were taken as part of the investigation. However, it was a difficult investigation, he said.
“Over 22 people were arrested for withholding information,” he explained.
Rattigan had denied involvement, insisting that he hadn’t been to the scene in months.
“I won’t admit. Yous prove it. That's your job,” he had said.
He was eventually charged in 2003, but this was struck out of the District Court later that year for failure to serve the book of evidence.
“It was a complex investigation and took a while to get the book of evidence together,” explained Chief Supt Sutton, adding that there was a large number of very reluctant witnesses.
He was re-charged in 2005 but took judicial review proceedings seeking an order of prohibition.
Rattigan argued that there had been both an unacceptable delay and prejudicial pre-trial publicity, which would prevent a fair trial.
He lost his case the following year but appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court agreed that there was a delay but found that the forensic evidence of blood and prints were extraordinary, exceptional and unexplained, and cried out to be examined.
The court also took the view that there would be a media ‘fade factor’ by the time his case came to court and that this would allow him a fair trial. It ruled in 2008 that the trial could proceed.
Chief Supt Sutton said that a feature of both trials was that some key witnesses professed to no-longer remember what they’d stated to gardai.
Some did not make themselves available and had to be arrested. Others left the jurisdiction. Some were charged with contempt and their statements had to be read to the court, using special legal provisions.
One of these statements was described as a key piece of evidence and was made by a friend of both men, David Byrne.
“He was subsequently murdered in the Regency shooting,” said the officer.
Niall Hannigan, another key witness in both trials, is also deceased.
Such witnesses had described Mr Gavin being in good form before the attack. He had been going to leave in a taxi with some girls, but the car was full.
Professor John Harbison, who had carried out the autopsy, was unavailable for the trials due to medical reasons. That was overcome at the time but was likely to have been a greater problem if the trial had proceeded in 2019.
Despite the difficulties, a jury found him guilty in 2009. He was the last person to be convicted of murder in the Four Courts.
However, he appealed this conviction and the Supreme Court eventually quashed it. A retrial was ordered earlier this year. It would have begun next month and lasted six weeks, but Rattigan decided to offer a plea to manslaughter.
Chief Supt Sutton agreed that all the frailties mentioned and the passage of time was likely to render the success of the trial questionable. The DPP, therefore, decided to accept the plea.
He agreed that, although this was painful for the Gavin family, it was bringing them closure.
Rattigan had already served a sentence for two counts of assault causing harm before killing Mr Gavin, and Chief Supt Sutton outlined the other convictions that have kept him behind bars since 2002.
These included a firearms offence, assault, violent disorder and possession of drugs for sale or supply. His biggest sentence, of 17 years imprisonment, was imposed for drug dealing while in jail.
With remission, he’s due for release next November.
He agreed with Brendan Grehan SC, defending, that Rattigan had recently written a letter of apology to Mr Gavin’s widowed mother. However, Pauline Gavin had declined to read the letter when she received it last week, feeling that it was ‘a little bit late’.
Mr Justice Michael White asked the witness if Rattigan had ever been in custody only in relation to Mr Gavin’s death. He replied that he had not.
Mr Gavin’s sister, Tara Gavin, then delivered a victim impact statement in which she said that the loss and sadness had not disappeared over the past 17 years.
“Declan was my little brother and, even after all these years, I can’t begin to describe how close we were,” she said. “He made me laugh.”
She said that his amazing sense of humour was what she had missed most of all. She said that happiness had been taken from their home and replaced with a sense of darkness.
“My world turned upside down,” she said.
She explained that she had gone from someone concentrating on finishing college and looking forward to travelling to someone, who couldn’t comprehend what she was going to do next.
She said that watching the effect it was having on her mother was soul destroying.
She said that the manner in which her brother had died and the events that followed were things she couldn’t bare to think about.
“It was an extremely hard time to live through,” she said.
“We acknowledge the short letter of apology,” she continued. “After so many years of listening to: ‘I didn’t kill Declan’, it seems the timing of this apology is a little too convenient.”
She said that the family had waited nearly 18 years to hear what they’d known after 24 hours: that Brian Rattigan was responsible for her brother’s death.
She finished by thanking her mother for doing everything possible to encourage her to live her life.
Mr Grehan later read out his client’s letter to Mrs Gavin.
“I’m very sorry for taking your son’s life,” he wrote. “I’ve regretted that night in silence ever since. As I get older, it doesn’t get any easier.”
He said that he hoped she could find peace and closure now.
“May Declan rest in peace and may God protect him,” he concluded.
Mr Grehan asked the judge to take this and a number of testimonials into account.
He also outlined his achievements while in prison, which included playing the lead or a supporting part in a production of Cinderella. He had also obtained a diploma and certificates in various subjects.
Justice White said the court would pronounce sentence on 24th January.
“Thank you, your honour,” said Rattigan before being led away.