The Sallins Case – a Timeline
1973-1977: Fine Gael/Labour Coalition in power:
(Garda Commissioner: Ned Garvey: Sep 1975 - Jan 1978)
1978-1983: Fianna Fáil in power
(Garda Commissioner: Patrick McLaughlin)
The Court Cases
Trial No. 1 District Court:
8th April 1976 – 9th Dec 1976 245 Days
Trial No. 2 Special Criminal Court:
19th Jan 1978
Trial No. 3 (Trial within a trial)
-16th June 1978 65 Days
Trial No. 4 (New trial)
10th Oct 1978
Trial No. 5 (Trial within a trial)
– 13th Dec 1978 51 Days
Accuseds' Solicitors: Dudley Potter, Garret Sheehan (now retired Judge)
Trials 2 -4:
Accuseds' Solicitors: Pat McCartan (now retired Judge) and Michael White
Accuseds' Counsel: Paddy McEntee, S.C. (Breatnach + Plunkett)
Seamus Sorohan, S.C. (RIP) (McNally & Kelly)
Anthony Sammon Jnr B.L.
James Connolly Heron B. L.
Martin Giblin B.L. (now S.C.)
Prosecution: Noel McDonald, S.C. (RIP) + Robert Barr S.C. (RIP Judge) + Kevin Haugh, B.L. (RIP Judge)
Civil Action for inter alia, Damages
Solicitor: Greg O'Neill (retired)
Counsel: Barry White, (retired Judge)+ Paul Carney (RIP Judge)
Maurice Gaffney SC (RIP)
Anthony Sammon, Jnr B.L. (now SC)
31 Mar, 1976: Dublin to Cork Mail Train Robbery near Hazelhatch, Co. Kildare near Sallins, called by the media the “Sallins Mail Train Robbery”.
4 Apr,1976 Gardaí arrest circa 40 people (members, supporters and family of members of the IRSP- a registered, legal political
party. This is the biggest round up of suspects since WW2.
The uncorroborated ‘suspects’ list is supplied by Inspector Ned Ryan who is leading the investigation.
Not on any arrest list, Osgur, a journalist, is kidnapped at 13.30 pm and repeats request for his solicitor and his interview to be in his native tongue-Irish. Remains in custody from 14:00 pm – 20:00 pm on the 6th April when he is
interviewed in Irish by two guards. Legal access is denied and told he has
‘no fucking rights under the Offences Against the
In another interview he is informed
‘no one will want to join your party by the time we
are finished with you’.
His detention is extended to 48hr. Legal representation to all suspects denied by Gardai.
7 Apr,1976 After 11 suspects have been torture in police custody,
Kelly, McNally & Fitzpatrick sign false incriminating
statements (but not Plunkett) dictated by Gardai. These
statements ‘confirm’ a Garda list of suspects that alleges
all their participation in the robbery.
At 05.20 a.m. Osgur is tortured in an underground tunnel,
which goes from the jail section to the Bridewell Garda
Station to the nearby Bridewell District Courts.
He is then brought to a locker room where other Gardai
join in further torture. Osgur signs false dictated
statement incriminating himself alone.
Different gardai then stay with Osgur and falsely
allege verbal admissions. Osgur is returned to his cell.
Osgur considers suicide in his cell but after seeing his solr.,
he is released. As he walks out of the Bridewell he is re-
arrested – his fifth consecutive detention.
Osgur's father telephones GP Dr. Noel Smith to examine
Osgur. A Habeas Corpus application to High Court judge
Hamilton J., is made to produce Osgur in Court.
GP Dr. Smith declares Breatnach is “severely ill” and
possibly suffering from concussion.
Court directs Osgur’s transfer to Richmond Hospital.
Now there are 6:
7 Apr,1976 McNally, Kelly, Fitzpatrick + Plunkett are brought to
Bridewell’s District Court to be tried by jury and formally
charged with “conspiracy to commit armed robbery and
Plunkett rips open shirt pointing to injuries and shouts
he was beaten. Judge tells him to raise the allegations
elsewhere and remands them back to Bridewell on garda
Contrary to Prison Rules they are detained together.
Gardai subsequently state all injuries must have been
inflicted while they were together.
Breatnach is seen by three more Drs., in Hospital. Others
also seen by Drs.
8 Apr,1976 Breatnach illegally arrested on way back to High Court
Aidan Browne B.L. represents the Director of Public
Prosecutions (DPP) and later gives evidence that the
High Court appearance of Breatnach was like those of the
tortured Hooded Men whose case the Irish Government had
taken against Britain in the European Court!
Breatnach is released by High Court without any objection
by the State.
Outside the court, Gardai re-arrested and charge Osgur.
He is remanded with the rest to Mountjoy Prison this
time and examined by a Dr. there.
8 Apr,1976 All five accused are transferred to Portlaoise prison and
medically examined again.
9 Apr,1976 Michael Barrett arrested (he was named in Fitzpatrick’s
statement but both he and Fitzpatrick had the solid alibi of
being with other witnesses).
The foundation of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties by,
amongst others, Law lecturers Kadar Asmal and future
Irish President Mary Robinson, is driven by the Sallins
On obtaining a reduced bail, from tens of thousands to one thousand, some weeks later, (-now that the bruises had disappeared), a large number of Civil Cases for assault and battery etc were announced by those tortured.
Nov,1976 The Court of Criminal Appeal in the “Madden” Case
directs that Appeal Courts should usually accept as a
finding of fact anything decided by the Special Criminal
Court (SCC) to be a fact.
Now there are none
8 Dec,1976 O’hUadhaigh J., in the District Court throws out DPP Case
against Breatnach and all the others on the grounds of
failure to present any evidence.
But now there are 4 again:
17 Dec,1976 Breatnach, NcNally, Plunkett, and Kelly re-arrested:
Barrett not re-arrested. Fitzpatrick declared “missing”.
All Four accused brought before the juryless Special
Criminal Court and formally charged with “stopping the
train with intent of stealing mail bags” and each granted
Feb,1977 Front page Irish Times exposé reveals existence of “Garda
Heavy Gang” and extensive ill-treatment of prisoners.
June,1977 Amnesty International sends observers to Ireland and
issues report expressing great concern and mentions the
matter of garda torture and malpractice in the Special
Criminal Court in its 1977 World Report seeking an
Fianna Fáil (FF) win landslide general election victory
committing to inquiry.
In government, an impartial Inquiry is rejected by FF. A
three-man committee, chaired by Barra O’Briain J., is
established to recommend future safeguards.
All its recommendations are subsequently rejected by
SECOND TRIAL COMMENCES
19 Jan,1978 Judges James McMahon (High Court),
John O’Connor (Circuit) and John Garavan (District).
Feb,1978 Hibernia journalist Niall Kiely reports ‘judge O’Connor J.,
nodding off’ on 10th., day of Trial and wrote about same
on 03/02/1978 – nothing happens
Dublin architect and Fine Gael member, Martin Reynolds,
observes the same on the 06/02/1978 (see pages 139
15 Apr,1978 Sunday Independent reports a Belgian lawyer has the
names of most of the Heavy Gang members and reports
‘...we get special pay..unless we are ordered to stop .. we
we will continue...’
26 Apr,1978 On the 50th., day of the Trial, Defence SCs Sorohan and
McEntee asks the Court to discharge itself on the sleeping
Court adjourns to back room, returns and refuses
application stating the court is fit to continue. It
ignores the sleeping judge issue.
The evidence of 3 judges hold more sway than 4
defendants, two Senior Counsel, an architect and a
journalist. The court turns Art 40 (1) of the Irish
Constitution on its head: ‘All citizens shall as human
persons be held equal before the law.’
28 Apr,1978 Next day, eight Affidavits (of the 4 accused, architect
Reynolds, Journalist Kiely, and defence solicitors
McCartan and White) swear affidavits to the High Court
about observing ‘sleeping judge.’
High Court President, Finlay J., refuses Application. Court
‘feels bound by the finding of fact’ that the SCC court ruled
that there was no sleeping judge.
4 May,1978 Accused appeal to Supreme Court. Judges O’Higgins,
C.J.,Henchy J., Griffin J., Kenny J., and Weldon Parke.
Court demands the Affidavits of the Solicitors be withdrawn “immediately.” They further denounce Reynold’s Affidavit.
Their Judgment finds ‘the length of delay in making the
application is reason enough to deny the appeal… Court
feels bound by the “finding of fact”.
Nine judges have now ruled that sleeping Judge O’Connor
J., is following all the evidence in due discharge of his
5 May,1978 Plunkett shouts in court that O’Connor J., is asleep.
6 May,1978 Hibernia reporter Kiely reports that O’Connor is asleep.
May,1978 Garda Review editorial (published by the Garda
Representative Association) alleges Garda Commissioner
misleading public. Commissioner moves to indict the entire
Concerned Gardai send a delegation to Garret Fitzgerald
who went to the Taoiseach/ Prime Minister. The complaints
about the Heavy Gang are brushed aside.
June 1978 Trial now the longest in Irish criminal history.
6 June 1978 Judge O’Connor J., dies while preparing to go to Court.
State spent estimated IR£500,000 on the 2nd trial.
THIRD TRIAL COMMENCES
Oct 10, 1978 Judges Liam Hamilton (High Court),
Gerard Clarke (Circuit Court) and Cathal Ó Floinn
Three accused (Breatnach, McNally, Plunkett) plead not
guilty again and blame Inspector Ned Ryan’s Heavy Gang
and plead a State conspiracy:
Evidence is given by 50 plus gardai, Drs., and the accused.
Garda Commissioner Ned Garvey is sacked amid
controversy that he was working with British Intelligence.
Oct 11, 1978 State witness claims Detective wrote statement in her
name ‘identifying’ Plunkett. She denies identifying Plunkett.
The court acquits Plunkett.
Now there are 3
TRIAL WITHIN A TRIAL
As the case against McNally commences it digresses to a ‘trial within
a trial’ to determine if the statements signed by the three accused should be admitted in evidence. All accused give evidence of being refused solicitors, of being oppressed and tortured and supply medical evidence to the fact.
26 Oct, 1978: Breatnach gives evidence of torture and that he
contemplated hanging himself to escape his tortures who
wanted him to implicate innocent people.
Aidan Browne, barrister for the Director of Public
Prosecutions gives evidence in support of Osgur, as do
10 Nov,1978: Kelly gives evidence of torture.
27 Nov,1978 Submissions conclude on 33rd., day of ‘Trial within a Trial’
(31days of evidence).
Ruling on ‘Trial within a trial’
1 Dec, 1978 The court rules that
All the statements made by accused were made voluntarily
No torture took place by the gardaí
All injuries were self- inflicted or inflicted with the assistance of other co-accused.
Defence Counsel admonished in Court for expressing
surprise at the court’s “reasoning”! Written Ruling refused!
4 Dec, 1978 Trial “proper” commences with opportunity to cross-
examine witnesses again: McNally & Kelly give evidence
Breatnach believes, as always, that they will be
convicted and refuses to take the stand to repeat his
9 Dec,1978 Kelly does not appear in court. His whereabouts are
unknown. Court decides to, uniquely, try him in abstentia.
Process of Appeals commence. 17-month delay in preparing trial
transcripts.. ‘as photocopying machine broken.’
My brother, Caoilte, escalates international campaign to release men and clear their names. Worldwide human rights groups (eg Amnesty International, International Commision of Jurists..) contacted.
27 April 1980 I.R.A. publicly admits responsibility for the robbery, declaring those convicted all innocent.
12 May, 1980 McNally’s and Breatnach’s Appeals take place before the
Court of Criminal Appeal (Judges Tom Finlay, Donal
Barrington and Seamus Henchy) with international
observers present: after six days at hearing, judgment
22 May, 1980 Court quashes McNally and Breatnach sentences and
convictions, declaring statements made by them “not
legally admissible” but fails to give its reasons.
THE NICKY KELLY CASE
4 June, 1980 Kelly returns from the U.S.
He seeks “extension of time” to lodge an Appeal.
18 Dec,1980 Court of Criminal Appeal (Judges Weldon Parke, John
Gannon and Mella Carroll) refuse extension of time
Refusal appealed to Supreme Court.
16 Feb,1981 Nine months later the Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA) delivers
its McNally & Breatnach Judgment: Gardaí’s accused of
oppression and the SCC rebuked however no explanation is given
as to how the men achieved their injuries in police custody. The CCA refused to interfere with the Court of Trial’s finding that there was no assault by any member of the Guards- the gardai are again left off the hook.
29 July,1981 Supreme Court overturns the refusal to Kelly and allows
“full” Appeal” to be brought- but reserves its findings
11 Jan,1982 O’Higgins C.J., gives his reason for allowing Kelly Appeal to be brought before the CCA as it was “just” and “equitable” supported by Henchy J., Kenny J. + Walsh J.
2 April,1982 CCA (Finlay P., Henchy J., and Barrington J.) reject Kelly’s
Release Nicky Kelly Campaign launches international
Kelly and others process civil actions for Damages for
13 July,1982 Supreme Court asked to overturn CCA’s refusal of Kelly’s
appeal against his conviction. Court reserves its
29 Oct,1982 O’Higgins CJ., Walsh J., Griffin J., Hederman J., and
McWilliams J., affirmed the CCA’s refusal and end
Kelly’s legal challenge for good. “It is seldom that the appellate jurisdiction of our courts has been so fully exercised but it is proper that it should have been so in order to satisfy the requirements of justice”
1 May,1983 Kelly begins first hunger strike
25 May,1983 Justice Minister Michael Noonan (FG) says Kelly can’t be released without "new evidence".
27 May,1983 Kelly moved to Curragh Military Hospital.
1 Jun,1983 Irish Commission for Justice & Peace urges an Appeal to the European Court of Human Rights
3 Jun,1983 Amnesty International expresses concern to Minister Noonan.
Chanel Four TV makes documentary on trad-rock band “Moving Hearts” and Kelly Case with narration by Keith Donald, musician
6 June,1983 Kelly’s lawyers (Garret Sheehan, Mary Robinson and Prof. Kevin Boyle, UCG) initiate appeal to European Commission
7 Jun,1983 Kelly comes off hunger strike after 38 days to allow
European appeal to proceed –
Government issues statement inviting Kelly to pursue his
legal action (thinking it time- blocked.)
Local Government Authorities, trade unions and high
profile personalities pass call for Kelly’s release.
31 Oct,1983 Fitzpatrick comes out of “hiding” and gives press
Conference: why was he not re-arrested with the others
having signed a statement of involvement?. He says he was tortured and forced to incriminate himself and others and that
the guards always knew where he was. Was it because he had a
firm alibi (with Barrett)?
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) reviews the entire Sallins Case and rescinds the order to arrest Fitzpatrick, believing he was not involved in the robbery.
Consequently, Kelly’s false statement stating Fitzpatrick was at the robbery was obviously false. As was Fitzpatrick’s statement stating that Kelly was there.
1 Nov,1983 Kelly’s lawyers initiate release Petition to Minister Noonan on “medical grounds”
Nov, 1983 Dept., of Justice demands payment of cost of security transport from prison to Dublin in advance of allowing Kelly be medically examined for his legal Action.
Jan, 1984 Justice Dept., withdraws demand for payment.
May, 1984 State argue Kelly shouldn’t be allowed to sue as the issues involved have already been “decided” by the SCC 6 years previously. Hamilton J., directs a ‘Trial of a Preliminary Issue’ without a jury
17 May,1984 European Court rejects Kelly’s Appeal as it was lodged more “than 6 months after final Supreme Court” Rejection (on 29/10/2982)
17 July,1984 Minister Noonan tells divided Cabinet that he is going to release Kelly on “humanitarian grounds”. Ministers Alan Dukes, John Boland, John Bruton and Attorney General Peter Sutherland oppose Kelly’s release. Justice Minister Cooney absent.
1991 & 1992 Case raised by Amnesty in Worldwide Reports with concerns about the continued existence of the Special Criminal Court and calling for an Inquiry to be established
Jul, 1991 The Irish Council for Civil Rights (ICCL) makes a submission to the then Government for an independent Inquiry
Fitzpatrick takes Civil Action before Judge & Jury.
DPP’s Review finding Fitzpatrick was not involved in robbery, withheld from court.
Judge invites jury to consider if Fitzpatrick robbed train.
His case fails and he appeals to Supreme Court.
Apr,1992 Government ask Irish President to ‘Pardon’ Kelly and confirms “exoneration” of McNally & Breatnach
1992/1993 Committee formed to press for an Inquiry. Paper published and launched on RTE News
1993 Osgur appears on Nighthawks RTE TV and The Gay Byrne Hour RTE Radio 1 (GB on the 31/05/1993), causing outraged “Heavy Gang” members to issue Contempt of Court Application against Byrne to the High Court. After a number of days at hearing, judgment is reserved by Morris J. (of the later Morris Tribunal) before dismissing the Committal Application against Gay Byrne.
July, 1993 Compensation agreed with the accused’s (Breatnach, Kelly, McNally & Fitzpatrick) lawyers.
No inquiry ever held.
UN Declaration of Human Rights Art 5
‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment.’
What is torture?
UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT Art 1.1)
‘Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him… information or confession… or intimidating or coercing him..when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of, or with, the consent or acquiescence of, a public official, or other person acting in an official capacity….’
53 x Gardaí involved who gave evidence:
Felix McKenna – later involved in CAB
John Courtney RIP – former Chief Superintendent later headed The Murder Squad involved in Kerry Babies, now retired (pinpointed by McEntee S.C., as an “expert” interrogator)
Gerard O’Carroll – later part of Murder Squad, involved in ~Kerry Babies case, now retired
Superintendent Ned Ryan RIP– headed Garda case and attend Trial throughout, was never pressed by the Court to reveal his source
Chief Superintendent John Joy
Superintendent Patrick Casey
Chief Superintendent John Fleming
Michael Canavan (pinpointed by McEntee S.C., as an “expert” interrogator)
Michael Finn - was in November 2002 appointed as investigator to the Morris Tribunal examining allegations of criminal activity on the part of a number of policemen in Donegal.
Inspector John Murphy (interrogated Breatnach in Bridewell tunnel and locker room)
Thomas Ibar Dunne (interrogated McNally, Kelly and Breatnach pinpointed by McEntee S.C., as an “expert” interrogator)
Thomas Fitzgerald (interrogated Breatnach in Bridewell tunnel and locker room)
Brendan Breen (P.O. in Portlaoise who examined Breatnach on admittance to Mountjoy confirmed bruising)
9 x Doctors who gave evidence:
Noel Smith (for Osgur)
Patrick Carey, Richmond
Prof. John Paul Lanigan, R.C.S. (requested by Potter, solr.)
Dr. James Leitch (then casualty officer in Richmond)
Dr. Samuel Davis (Mountjoy) + Paul McVeigh (Mountjoy)
Richard Burke (Portlaoise Prison)
Sean Ó Cléirigh (assisted by David McGee)
Prof. Robert Daly
Other (common) Prisoners x 4 who gave evidence:
William Royale (heard screaming from prisoners)
George Royale (heard screaming from prisoners)
James Lawlor (heard screaming from prisoners)
Peter Harrington (heard screaming from prisoners)
Bridewell Matrons x 2 (both widows of gardaí) who denied they heard any screaming: