Arsonist at centre of Supreme Court ruling ‘did legal world some good’

Lawyers for a man who pleaded guilty to arson after the Supreme Court overturned his acquittal say he has done the legal world some good.

Anthony McDonnell, 26, admitted setting fire to a car in the car park of an apartment block, resulting in around €77,000 in building damage and the destruction of two cars.

During his initial trial in 2014, Judge Sarah Berkeley directed an acquittal after ruling that CCTV footage showing McDonnell committing the offences was inadmissible because the prosecution had not produced any proof of how the CCTV system worked.

Judge Berkeley said this would include information about “date and time, recordings” and she said these were rather simple matters to be put before the court, adding, “I don’t understand why the prosecution haven’t called that evidence”.

Overturning her decision in December 2016, Mr Justice William McKechnie ruled that CCTV footage “should be regarded as real evidence and not as hearsay” and “evidence as to its operation and functionality is therefore not required to establish this”.

Judge Berkeley had also ruled that alleged admissions made by McDonnell during garda interviews were inadmissible under rules around the right to silence.

Mr Justice McKechnie also overturned this ruling, saying gardaí had a right to question McDonnell a number of times because he had failed to account for his presence at the scene of the crime.

The Supreme Court concluded that Judge Berkeley was mistaken in her rulings and ordered a re-trial. McDonnell was listed for trial last April when he pleaded guilty to arson.

Dominic McGinn SC, defending, said that the Supreme Court ruling has become seminal case law and was known as the AMcD case.

He said that his client had assisted the legal world but the process had left McDonnell in the “invidious” position of finding himself facing a prosecution after getting an acquittal in 2014.

He said his client managed to stay out of trouble after this until May 2017, when he committed a robbery. He was sentenced for this offence in February 2018 to four years and six months.

McDonnell pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to arson at Camden apartments, Dublin on 19 August 2011.

Garda Edward Laffan told John Quirke BL, prosecuting, that McDonnell used a can of petrol to set one car on fire but the fire spread to a second car before the fire brigade were able to put it out.

He said the two cars were destroyed, it was extremely lucky that no other cars went on fire, and the fire could have set the nearby building alight and posed an extreme danger to the residents int the apartment.

He said the damage to the building was not structural but consisted of damage to interior wiring and servicing.

Mr McGinn said his client had since completed a difficult course in football coaching. He said the 2017 robbery convictions were due to his relapsing into drug use.

The court heard McDonnell told gardaí that he didn’t intend to damage the building and he was sorry to anyone affected by the fire.

Judge Melanie Greally adjourned the case to July and ordered a report from the prison governor.

Declan Brennan, CCC.nuacht