A 57 year old man accused of hitting another man handing out anti-drugs literature during a row in a pub in North Louth, was acquitted at Dundalk Circuit Court last week following a two day trial.
PJ Flynn -with an address at Grove Road, Carlingford, had pleaded not guilty to causing serious harm at John Long’s, Grange, Carlingford on the sixth of August 2011.
The complainant in the case Thomas Eccles gave evidence last Tuesday that he and a fellow member of the Sinn Fein Cumann in Cooley were distributing anti-drugs literature given to them by the gardai when they called to the pub and asked for a poster to be put up.
He claimed that following a heated conversation with a customer who was relative of the defendant, PJ Flynn grabbed him by his coat.
He said the defendant’s relative ran behind and got him in a headlock and dragged him to the ground landing a few kicks.
Mr. Eccles said a few minutes later, he thought PJ Flynn was coming towards him to apologise but instead, he claimed the accused lifted a pool ball and struck him on the left eye with it.
He was taken by taxi to the Louth County Hospital and was transferred the A & E at Our Lady of Lourdes hospital in Drogheda.
Mr. Eccles told the jury that when the stitches were removed about two weeks later he realised he could not see out of the eye.
Mr. Eccles said then spent two and a half weeks in the Mater hospital, had three operations and he told the court “I got a lot of my vision back”.
During cross examination by the Defence, the witness confirmed he has a previous conviction for the Capital murder of Garda Frank Hand and that he was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
He denied that he had effectively broadcast in the pub an untrue allegation about the defendant’s relative having a drug conviction, or that he had threatened to shoot the accused – and denied that PJ Flynn’s response was “I’m not going to be intimidated by you and your Provo gang”.
Mr. Eccles also confirmed that he had gone to a solicitor first to make his complaint of assault more than two months after the incident, rather than to the gardai, and he denied that this was because he was concerned the Gardai might be aware that a member of the force had been murdered by him.
A second witness told the jury, he had seen the accused hit the complainant with a closed fist and did not see him put a pool ball in his pocket. He also said that Tommy Eccles never lifted his hand throughout the night.
The court also heard the defendant returned to the pub later that night and handed the barman a white pool ball from his pocket. The barman confirmed to the Defence barrister, that the only person he had seen hit the complainant, was not PJ Flynn.
A woman who had been drinking in the pub said she had seen the accused picked up a white pool ball from the pool table. She said she screamed at him to put it down and claimed that he had a wild look on his face, when he made a charge at Tommy Eccles with the ball and she said she could hear his eye cracking.
The woman claimed the accused still had the pool ball in his hand - but it was “red with blood” when he left with it.
She denied during cross examination that her account was incorrect saying “I’m after taking an oath – it happened. “
The jury heard on Wednesday that Tommy Eccles made a formal statement of complaint to gardai on the 26th of October 2011.
The investigating garda spoke to the barman who was on duty and took statements from four other witnesses, but the court heard that a number of others indicated they weren’t there saw nothing, or were not prepared to make a statement.
PJ Flynn was arrested on December 6th and he told gardai that he had been playing pool when he heard words being exchanged in the background. He said he heard Tommy Eccles make a drugs allegation and he told him he was out of order and that there was no need to say what he said.
The accused told gardai that they had words – and claimed the complainant threatened to shoot him.
He said Tommy Eccles struck him after he told him was not going to be intimated “by you or your Provo gang”.
PJ Flynn said he ended up on the ground and the next thing he remembered was being outside the door of the pub.
During questioning he said he didn’t know how the complainant sustained a serious eye injury – and when he was told that hitting someone with a pool ball isn’t self-defence, the accused replied “I didn’t hit anyone with a pool ball. I want to know how my face got marked”
In his closing speech, Prosecutor Kevin Segrave told the jury that they’d heard evidence of a serious assault by the accused. He urged them to judge the complainant on what happened that night and not as someone who can’t be believed on the basis of his previous conviction for the murder of a Garda - and while he said that was “a nauseating horror”, Mr. Segrave pointed out that Tommy Eccles had been involved in an anti-drugs poster campaign on the evening in question, which he argued could only be seen as “commendable”.
Senior Defence Counsel Roderick O’Hanlon told the jury that they have to decide if there was an assault from behind with a pool ball as described by the complainant, who he said had told medical staff in hospital that he’d been hit with a bottle.
Mr. O’Hanlon added that his client says he only took the pool ball to keep the table and the jury had also heard that another individual was involved in the alleged incident.
He argued there was confusion in the evidence and the Prosecution had not established the case against his client beyond a reasonable doubt.
The jury - seven men and five women, retired shortly before 4.30pm and returned the not guilty verdict after almost an hour of deliberations.