A MAN who pleaded guilty to a drugs offence has had his conviction quashed and been released from prison because of controversial comments made by a judge at his trial.
Outspoken judge Sean MacBride — who has previously described himself as the “Dirty Harry” of the Irish judicial system — was accused of “exceeding his jurisdiction” during the sentencing hearing of Kevin Murphy at Cavan District Court last April.
The judge told the defendant he was going to run him out of town and said Mr Murphy would not “pull the wool” over his eyes or those of the local garda drug unit.
“If I were a neighbour, I would take the head off you,” he told Mr Murphy, before sentencing him to eight months.
The judge also vowed that he would “legally bury” the defendant until he stopped what he was doing and said he had “intelligence” on the matter and knew who was involved.
Mr Murphy, a former member of the Defence Forces from Lisasarn, Cootehill, Co Cavan, had pleaded guilty under Section 15 of the Misuse of Drugs Act to having cannabis for the purpose of sale or supply at an address at Dromore, Cootehill, on November 3, 2011.
A garda inspector had given evidence that, during a search of a dwelling, they found Mr Murphy at the back door with a jar containing cannabis. They discovered drugs paraphernalia, approximately eight bags of cannabis, a weighing scales, a notepad with a “tick” list and over €700 in cash in the house.
Mr Murphy’s legal team sought a judicial review, challenging the sentence over the judge’s comments.
His barrister Ronan Munro opened an affidavit of his solicitor Damien Rudden to the High Court. In it, Mr Rudden said Judge MacBride had “displayed an antipathy” towards Mr Murphy, “which appeared to flow, not just from the offence charged and evidence-led, but from matters not led in evidence”.
The president of the High Court on Tuesday granted an order quashing Mr Murphy’s conviction and sentence, noting the matter was unopposed by Judge MacBride and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Mr Murphy was then freed from Loughan House open prison in Co Cavan, where he had been in custody for the past three-and-a-half months.
It is not the first time that Judge MacBride’s comments have landed him in hot water.
In 2007 he told a courtroom that he would “blow the head” off any intruder who entered his home. He later apologised, saying he was totally opposed to guns and violence.
He also branded Tyrone people as “typically thick”, but again was forced to make a public apology for the remark.
By Breda Heffernan and Patsy McArdle