25 Sept 2022

Three men found guilty of abduction and 'vicious assault' of Kevin Lunney

Kevin Lunney

Kevin Lunney

Kevin Lunney spoke slowly and calmly as he described the fear he felt that nobody would come to help as he crawled along a country road, shivering from the cold, with his shin broken, knife wounds to his chest and blood dripping from his face.

Giving his evidence in a matter of fact style, he did not embellish or exaggerate.

He was not cross-examined at any length; the truth of what he said was proven by the injuries he suffered.

Mr Lunney said his attackers repeatedly told him to resign from his position as a director of Quinn Industrial Holdings and to put a stop to litigation with which he was involved in Belfast and Dublin.

In opening the trial, prosecution counsel Sean Guerin SC said that what was done to Mr Lunney was connected to his directorship role and that his attackers were acting on behalf of others.

But, he added:

"It is unnecessary to dwell on the background of the company in any detail."

The men on trial, he said, were not connected to "any previous dealings with Quinn Industrial Holdings, or Mr Lunney or anyone connected to it."

There was, he said, no personal motive involved.

Mr Lunney began by saying that at 6:30pm he had been driving up the country lane to his home in Derrylin, Co Fermanagh when he saw a silver BMW in front of him.

He stopped, the BMW reversed at speed and crashed into his Toyota Landcruiser.

Two men wearing face masks and dark clothing jumped out of the BMW and dragged Mr Lunney from his car before a third man, nominated as 40-year-old YZ by the Special Criminal Court, pressed a Stanley knife against Mr Lunney's face, and ordered him into the boot of his Audi A4.

They drove him to a remote farmyard and led him into a blue horse trailer where he was stripped to his boxer shorts, doused in bleach, beaten and threatened.

YZ slashed him with a knife.

At one point Mr Lunney was forced to stretch out his leg and one of his attackers used a wooden bat to strike his shin.

Mr Lunney felt the bone break but was struck again almost immediately in the same spot.

The ordeal would end with Mr Lunney being dumped on the side of a country road.

He dragged himself, with only the use of one arm and one leg, towards the light of a distant window until tractor driver Aaron Brady and local woman Celine Duignan discovered him, bleeding and helpless.

They comforted him, covered him with blankets and gave him 7-Up. 

When he arrived at Cavan General Hospital it was assessed that, apart from the obvious injuries, he was suffering from hypothermia.

His testimony, which was in line with what he told Gardai, shone a light on how the investigation unfolded.

In particular the investigation was spurred by his revelation that during the assault, his attackers decided they needed bleach to destroy forensic evidence.

Two of the attackers left and when they returned 15 minutes later they rubbed bleach into Mr Lunney's hands, legs, torso and face.

Gardai canvassed local shops and found that Luke O'Reilly (68) had bought a bottle of Domestos from a Gala shop at Killydoon in Cavan at almost exactly 8pm, a time that coincided neatly with the account given by Mr Lunney.

They got a warrant to search Mr O'Reilly's home where they were greeted by Mr O'Reilly, who told them:

"I know why you are here. Because I bought that bottle of bleach."

He handed over his mobile phone and gave Gardai a statement, telling them he had nothing to hide.

When Gardai checked Mr O'Reilly's phone, they saw that he had been in contact with known criminal Cyril McGuinness, also known as Dublin Jimmy, who is now deceased.

When they seized records relating to McGuinness' number, they saw that at pivotal points during the preparation for and currency of the kidnap and assault on Mr Lunney, McGuinness was in contact with the accused man known as YZ.

By tracing YZ's movements on CCTV and mobile phone contacts around the time of the kidnap, Gardai formed the cases against Alan O’Brien (40) and Darren Redmond (27).

Mr Lunney was also able to give Gardai snippets of information that led them to where the assault took place.

He said he was in the boot of the Audi A4 for about 45 minutes, travelling at speed for much of the journey.

As he lay in the boot with the back seat down, he was occasionally able to see through the window and identified a Lakeland Dairies sign and a pub with a cream-coloured sign, about one metre in length running down the side of a building.

The trial judge would later remark that this account showed Mr Lunney's "uncanny ability to accurately estimate the passage of time even though his attackers removed his watch early on." 

When he was taken from the boot, he could see that he was in a yard overgrown with weeds and with a number of trailers.

The one he was taken to was a blue horse box with animal dung on the floor, and beside it, he said, was a white trailer and a brown building.

Three days after the abduction, a Garda discovered a yard in Drumbrade, Ballina that seemed identical to the one described by Mr Lunney.

It soon emerged that the yard belonged to Luke O'Reilly.

Forensic testing revealed that blood DNA inside a blue horsebox in the yard matched that of Kevin Lunney.

When Gardai examined the mobile phones of all the accused, they discovered that after buying the bleach in Killydoon, Mr O'Reilly drove north, away from his home at Kilcogy towards Drumbrade, where Mr Lunney was being held in a yard that he owned.

At the same time, YZ's phone was pinging off masts running along the N55 heading south towards Mr O'Reilly.

The court acquitted Mr O'Reilly of all charges against him because, as was argued by defence counsel Michael Lynn SC, it was not proven that he knew what was to happen to Mr Lunney.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt said that what happened at the yard owned by Mr O'Reilly must have occurred with "some degree of consent and knowledge" on his part.

The phone calls with McGuinness that coincided with calls between McGuinness and YZ, the court said, must have involved "some apprehension on his part that criminal activity was afoot."

The court therefore concluded that Mr O'Reilly was "providing some form of local advice or assistance".

The court also said that it doubted whether Mr O'Reilly "could have believed that all of that effort was being deployed in pursuit of some trivial purpose."

The court further found that Mr O'Reilly did not offer a "full or truthful account of his movements and actions" when questioned by Gardai and they did not accept his account that he bought the bottle of bleach for his wife.

Mr Justice Hunt said it is "difficult to envisage" that the bleach used on Mr Lunney arrived from any source other than Mr O'Reilly.

The court, however, said that Mr O'Reilly was not charged with assisting a criminal organisation or criminal activity in a general sense, but as a principal offender for false imprisonment and intentionally causing harm to Mr Lunney.

Mr Justice Hunt said:

"Accordingly, the prosecution must establish that it is an inexorable inference that Mr O’Reilly knew or intended that his actions and assistance would be directed towards these specific offences."

Mr O'Reilly's casual demeanour in the Gala shop and open co-operation with Gardai "offers some support for the construction that he did not know the specific reason why he was delivering bleach on behalf of Mr McGuinness," the court said.

Mr Justice Hunt added:

"Even if we might consider the prosecution scenario more likely, a reasonable doubt arises as defined in criminal law."

The circumstantial cases against the three men who were convicted relied largely on mobile phone and CCTV evidence.

Many days of the trial were taken up by legal argument over the legality of Gardai accessing mobile phone data and using CCTV harvested from shops, pubs and other private operators.

Gardai were aware in 2019 of the legal difficulties around using mobile phone evidence and so accessed phone records using ordinary warrants rather than the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011.

The court in this trial rejected the defence arguments and ruled that Gardai had acted properly in using warrants to access information that was to be used in the investigation of serious crime.

The court also rejected the defence's arguments that the use of CCTV by Gardai amounts to mass surveillance and should be forbidden.

In the case of YZ, the court listed seventeen strands of circumstantial evidence which Mr Justice Hunt said were "sufficient to support beyond reasonable doubt the conclusion that Mr YZ was heavily involved in these crimes before, during and after the commission thereof."

The evidence included his being seen on CCTV driving a Renault Kangoo van on the day of the abduction and the previous day, traveling from Dublin to Cavan and back, taking in areas close to Mr Lunney's home and Drumbrade where the assault happened.

Mr Lunney's DNA was found in the van in an area of suspected blood staining that the prosecution said could only have been transferred inadvertently by one of Mr Lunney's attackers.

During the trial, YZ's defence counsel Michael O'Higgins SC asked the court to consider whether the prosecution had excluded the possibility that Mr Lunney's DNA was planted inside the Renault Kangoo, which was subsequently destroyed by a fire at a storage yard in Cavan in February 2020.

The court heard Gardai were satisfied the fire was caused by batteries that were charging overnight in an office attached to the yard where the van was kept.

The scene was examined by both Gardai and by an insurance assessor who is an expert on fire damage, the trial heard.

Mr O'Higgins submitted that no access log was kept for the van while it was stored in a forensic examination unit and he pointed to the failure of forensic Gardai to spot an area of brownish red marking in the van that, when examined two days later, was found to be blood.

Mr Justice Hunt however, said the failure of forensic Gardai to find the area of blood staining was the result of oversight and not the result of an "implausible, complicated, unnecessary plan to plant evidence."

The judge said any such finding would require that a person had access to a sample of Mr Lunney's blood, which the judge said is "far-fetched to say the least".

The court concluded that the van was "used as a means of transport by those involved in the preparation for and execution of these crimes."

YZ was also connected to the Audi used to kidnap Mr Lunney when gardai found an eFlow tag in YZ's home that belonged to the Audi's previous owner.

The court also found that from Mr Lunney's descriptions of his attackers, YZ was responsible for inflicting most of the serious injuries.

The court also found that despite the controversy during the trial, YZ's guilt was proven without the need to consider mobile phone evidence.

It was, Mr Justice Hunt said, "of little or no decisive effect" given the other evidence showing YZ's obvious presence at the critical locations at critical moments in the preparation for and carrying out of the offences.

The main function of the mobile phone evidence, Mr Justice Hunt said, was to "add an additional degree of certainty and detail to a conclusion already established beyond reasonable doubt."

In relation to O'Brien, the court rejected his claim that he did not leave Dublin on the day of the abduction.

The court was satisfied that O'Brien was the passenger seen on CCTV footage in the Kangoo with YZ and that he was one of the three men directly involved in the abduction and assault.

Turning to Redmond, the court found that there were three strands of evidence that proved his guilt: He was seen with YZ and O'Brien in Dublin before they left for Cavan on the day of the offences, his DNA was found in the Kangoo, and his mobile phone was traced traveling from Dublin to Cavan and back in tandem with the Kangoo.

In passing sentence Mr Justice Hunt described Mr Lunney as a "decent man" who was the victim of a brutal assault designed to stop him going about his lawful business.

He sentenced YZ to 30 years imprisonment, O'Brien to 25 years and Redmond to 18 years with the final three suspended.

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