Media exposure of `Heavy Gang'
THE release of Osgur Breathnach and Bernard McNally, ordered by the Court of Criminal Appeal in Dublin on Thursday 22 May, has turned the spotlight once again on the notorious non-jury Free State Special Criminal Court. The two men, both IRSP members, had served 17 months of twelve and nine-year jail sentences for the Sallins mail-train robbery in March 1976.
Earlier this month, the IRA, in a statement, claimed responsibility for the £250,000 haul and said that both men were totally innocent.
The conviction of the men by the Special Criminal Court was based solely on statements obtained from them by severe beatings at the hands of the notorious `Heavy Gang', who had their hey-day during the coalition years. That court accepted the statements of the two men as evidence despite overwhelming evidence from doctors and lawyers (including state doctors and lawyers) that they had not been obtained voluntarily.
Although the court accepted that Breathnach was in illegal custody when the statement was made and also accepted that his repeated demands for a solicitor had been ignored, none of this prevented his conviction.
The obvious injustice of the Special Court is now highlighted by the reversal of its decisions in the mail train case (the reasons for the reversal have yet to be given by the appeal judges), and there have been calls already for its abolition. Breathnach is to take civil action for damages against the Gardaí involved.
Phoblacht, Saturday 31 May 1980