Damien McLaughlin trial: Garda officer admits doubts over interview evidence
A Garda detective seen and heard on video repeatedly swearing and shouting at a suspect agreed with a senior judge that 'a court of law' may have 'grave concerns of relying on that evidence'.
The detective, a member of the Garda’s special detective counter-terrorism unit based in Dublin, was giving evidence at the Belfast Crown Court trial of Tyrone man Damien Joseph McLaughlin.
The 41-year-old from Kilmascally Road near Ardboe, denies a total of six charges including aiding and abetting the drive-by shooting of 52-year-old prison officer David Black in November 2012 and IRA membership.
The detective had just completed his cross-examination by defence QC Orlando Pownall concerning his interviewing techniques and that of two fellow officers, when trial judge Mr Justice Colton asked for his comment.
The senior judge, sitting without a jury, initially put it to the officer he had “already accepted you did not anticipate” that the video recording of the interview “would not see the light of day”.
In the interview, conducted in a Co Letrim Garda station, a suspect, continually shouted, sworn and cursed at, purported to identify Mr McLaughlin, and the car used in the M1 motorway ambush, after prompting from officers.
The detective also accepted that he did not believe the interview “would be subject to scrutiny in a court of law”, before Mr Justice Colton then put it to him: “Can you understand why any court would have considerable concerns of relying on the evidence?”.
“Yes,” the officer replied.
Another Garda detective told Mr Justice Colton that he thought it possible that the taped interviews would see the light of day, and ultimately be played to a court.
However, his colleague in his earlier evidence, said the first he realised the video taped interviews would be used in court was when he was called to make a deposition in Belfast Magistrates’ Court.
While the detective agreed that “the language used” to the suspect, “was appalling”, he maintained that he was only “being robust” with the man who allegedly helped Mr McLaughlin start the Toyota Camry said to have been used by the gunmen.
And while at times he appeared to accept that he would “gauge” the language he would use, depending on the answers he was getting from a suspect, his two colleagues claimed there was nothing wrong in what was said during the interviews.
In answer to the defence the second officer also claimed that what occured had been “robust”, while denying this was their Garda “party line”. He also said that at all times he believed “that was language appropriate to the situation and language he (the suspect) was used to”.
“I don’t believe he was in anyway offended by the language,” he said, adding later that the suspect made “no complaint against any officer”.
“That’s no ringing endorsement,” said Mr Pownall.
The third officer in his cross-examination also said he saw nothing wrong with the interview, although he said he never swore at the suspect.
However, when put to him that “the ends do not justify the means,” the officer replied “it did in this case ... he told the truth”.