Prison for blocking search

A PORTLAOISE man who denied obstructing a drugs search of his home and claimed that the gardaí had given “a load of bull” to Judge Alan Mitchell was last week convicted and sentenced to prison.

A PORTLAOISE man who denied obstructing a drugs search of his home and claimed that the gardaí had given “a load of bull” to Judge Alan Mitchell was last week convicted and sentenced to prison.

Patrick Lawless, 74 Cherrygrove, Knockmay, Portlaoise, was charged with obstruction on August 31 last year.

Garda evidence was given by Det Padraic Ryan, Det Conor Murphy, Det Brian Kennedy, Garda Edward Burke and Garda Tara Reddin, all of whom were present on the day of the incident at Lawless’s house. Det Kenneth Creegan was also part of the garda unit on the day, but he has since retired from the force and did not give evidence in last week’s hearing. Additional State evidence was provided by Mr Fergal Conroy, peace commissioner.

The gardaí all testified that when they arrived at 74 Cherrygrove on the morning of August 31 last year, they observed Patrick Lawless standing in the porch of the house. When Det Ryan informed him they had a search warrant, Lawless slammed the door and refused to open it, which led to the gardaí having to gain entry by breaking the lower panel of the door.

“I knocked a number of times and said ‘Garda search warrant’ and I heard Patrick Lawless running up the stairs,” said Det Ryan. “The door took about one minute to breach. The lower panel was breached and I crawled through. As I came into the house, I heard the toilet flushing at the top of the stairs.”

Det Ryan said that he then saw Lawless halfway up the stairs, “roaring and shouting” at the gardaí. Det Ryan said that following a search of the house lasting some 40 minutes, he found evidence of drug use including dirty tin foil.

Defence for Lawless, Ms Josephine Fitzpatrick said her client claimed he had not been standing at the front door when the guards arrived and only became aware of their presence when they began banging on the door. Ms Fitzpatrick told the court that Lawless’ partner, Ms Elizabeth Heffernan would testify that she had been outside in the garden at the time and she pleaded with the gardaí not to force the door. Ms Heffernan would also testify that Sgt Creegan had even helped her carry her child and buggy over the garden wall to the neighbour’s house.

“Ms Heffernan will say she was the one only outside,” said Ms Fitzpatrick.

All of the gardaí rejected the suggestion that Ms Heffernan had been outside the house when they arrived and they all said she only returned to the property when the search was nearly completed.

“I saw no one else in the garden and I saw no one else in the house,” said Det Conor Murphy. “Ms Heffernan came back after the door was breached and became irate.”

“I clearly heard Garda Ryan state he had a warrant,” Det Murphy continued. “(Lawless) was definitely told and he failed to let us in.”

Det Brian Kennedy also said he saw Garda Ryan show Lawless the warrant and Ms Heffernan only arrived on the scene later. Det Kennedy told the court he ran around to the back of the house after Lawless closed the front door on the gardaí and he heard water running down the pipes at the rear.

“I don’t recall seeing anyone else in the garden or the curtilage of the house,” said Det Kennedy.

Garda Edward Bourke said that he looked through the side window after Lawless slammed the door and he saw Lawless running up the stairs of the house. The garda said that Lawless was the only person in the house or at the front when the gardaí arrived.

Garda Tara Reddin also testified that she saw Lawless running up the stairs after slamming the front door and she saw no one else in the garden.

“I’m sure he was shown the search warrant,” said Garda Reddin.

Defence witness, Ms Elizabeth Heffernan took the stand. Ms Heffernan, who is in a relationship with Lawless, claimed she was halfway through her garden when she saw the garda cars coming around the corner. She said that Sgt Creegan “grabbed” her and later “two ban garda”, one of whom was blonde, took her into the house to be searched.

“They kept screaming at me to open the door. None of them gave me a chance,” said Ms Heffernan.

Inspector Martin Harrington challenged her on her allegation of a blonde female garda being present on the day, as no such garda was involved in the operation.

“Have you been present when the gardaí have searched houses before?” asked Inspector Harrington.

“Yes,” replied Ms Heffernan.

“You’re mistaken about the blonde garda.”

“Two female guards were there,” replied Ms Heffernan. “Ken Creegan helped me lift my buggy.”

“You’re confused,” said the inspector.

“They’re confused, there were two female guards there that day. I was in the garden and I left the child with the neighbour.”

“It’s convenient you say Sgt Creegan helped you, he’s not here today,” said Insp Harrington.

A neighbour of Ms Heffernan’s, Ms Jacqueline Lacumber, also took the stand. Ms Lacumber, who lives two doors down from Ms Heffernan, testified that she was sitting on her own porch on the day and saw Sgt Creegan with Ms Heffernan in the garden.

“I took the child from her,” Ms Lacumber said. “I saw Patrick being taken out of the house and he shouted back to say he was being arrested over a chainsaw or something.”

“You were sitting in your porchway on the same side of the road and you can see her porchway?” asked Insp Harrington. “How can you see that?”

“It’s not straight, she lives on a bend,” replied Ms Lacumber.

When Lawless himself took the stand, he began by declaring to the court: “There’s an awful lot of lies said here today.”

Lawless maintained that he was upstairs when they gardaí arrived and he did not hear any knocks at the door. He claimed that he heard “this bang” and “flew down the stairs,” but when he came down the gardaí pinned him against the wall.

“Before I got off the bottom step I was put against the wall,” he said, adding that he didn’t believe any of the gardaí in court was the one who detained him in the sitting room during the search.

Inspector Harrington asked Lawless had he ever been present during a garda search of a house before.

“Yeah, loads of times,” he replied.

“Were you arrested that day?” asked Insp Harrington.

“I was.”

“If you were arrested that day, there’d be a custody record,” said the inspector, pointing out that no record existed.

“I’m fighting for my freedom here,” said Lawless, telling Judge Alan Mitchell that the gardaí “are after giving you a load of bull.”

After hearing all the evidence, Judge Mitchell said he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt and convicted Lawless of obstruction.

In mitigation, Ms Fitzpatrick said that Lawless has struggled with a chronic drug addiction, but he is now engaging with drink and drug addiction services.

“He’s made considerable strides in turning his life around,” she said, although she admitted: “He hasn’t assisted himself today by contesting the charge.”

Judge Mitchell said that Lawless does not have a good record and he ruled that community service would not be an appropriate sentence in this matter.

“I should impose a six-month sentence, but the chance he’s getting is four months,” declared the judge.

Lawless, who has 40 previous convictions, was sentenced as outlined, but recognizance was fixed on his own bond of €1,000 in the event of an appeal.