Court of Appeal, Dublin
A Laois truck driver has appealed his conviction for bringing almost €300,000 worth of cocaine into Dublin.
The driver had denied saying: “So you found the drugs, then?” to the officer who discovered the drugs, but the alleged admission was allowed into evidence at his trial.
The drugs were found stashed into a fire extinguisher in Aidan Conroy’s truck after it was seized at Dublin Port almost five years ago.
Judge Patricia Ryan jailed him for eight and a half years in 2018, describing him as a facilitator in the importation of the drugs.
The 41-year-old from Ashbrook, Clonaslee, had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Court to possession of cocaine for sale or supply on August 20, 2015.
The seizure was made as part of a joint operation involving the Revenue and Gardai. Following a tip off, customs officers searched Conroy's freight truck after it disembarked from a ferry. They found more than four kilos of cocaine inside a fire extinguisher in a compartment of the cab. The value of the drugs was estimated at €294,301.
Another almost seven kilos of cocaine were found in a bag on top of pallets in the rear of the truck's trailer. However, a jury acquitted Conroy of the charges relating to the trailer drugs, and convicted him of possession of the cab drugs only.
Conroy had no previous convictions and was described in court as having an excellent work record and being an asset to his community.
He appealed the conviction to the Court of Appeal on Friday, June 12.
His barrister, Patrick Gageby SC, informed the court that the grounds of appeal involved his alleged verbal admission.
Mr Gageby reminded the court that following the discovery of the drugs in the fire extinguisher, a customs officer had gone to the room where his client was being held and told him they had something to show him.
He said that it was during the walk to the truck when his client was alleged to have made the admission. “So you found the drugs, then?”
Conroy gave evidence at trial, denying any knowledge of the drugs in his truck and denying having made the alleged admission at the port.
“He was in a form of custody (at the port) and about to be confronted with what (the officer) had found,” Mr Gageby submitted. “It was beyond doubt that the Judges’ Rules ought to have been engaged.”
Counsel was referring to rules, which specify that a person in such circumstances should not be questioned without a caution.
“It’s hard to see what the purpose of showing him this was, except to gauge the reaction,” he suggested.
Mr Gageby added that the rules also meant that statements made by prisoners before such a caution would not be admissible in evidence.
He submitted that the trial judge had erred by not excluding the alleged admission.
“There’s no doubt that the alleged verbal admission in this case was an essential feature,” he said. “The accused was acquitted of the drugs found in the trailer, but not those in the cab, in the fire extinguisher.”
He said that it was a reasonable inference that the alleged admission was certainly relevant to that.
Mr Gageby further argued that, having admitted into evidence an admission alleged to have been made by his client, the trial judge was obliged by law to give a corroboration warning.
He argued that she should have warned the jury of the fact that there was no corroborative evidence confirming that his client had actually made the alleged admission and that there was no corroborative evidence that he ‘knew or had reasonable grounds to suspect that he was in possession of the controlled drugs’.
Karl Finnegan on behalf of the DPP said he remained of the view that there was corroborative evidence in the case.
“I didn’t take the view that it had to be corroborative of ‘the fact of the making’ of an admission but corroborative of ‘the facts of’ the admission or confession.
Justice John Edwards, presiding with Justice Patrick McCarthy and Justice Isobel Kennedy, reserved judgement in the case.