Witness told he'd be removed from protection programme if he refused to give evidence, trial hears

A protected witness in the Peter Butterly murder trial told the Special Criminal Court today that he was told he would be removed from the Witness Protection Programme if he refused to give evidence.

David Cullen said that a few months ago he was contacted about coming back from his host country to give evidence in the trial of two men. When he said he didn’t want to come back, he was told he would be removed from the programme.

“It was put as blunt as that. I would be removed from the programme,” he said.

Cullen agreed under cross examination that he wanted a written assurance from the authorities that he would get €10,000 in return for giving evidence against two men accused of the murder of the dissident republican.

David Cullen (aged 32) was also originally accused of the murder, but turned State’s witness over a year after the shooting and has given evidence implicating his two former co-accused in the murder.

Edward McGrath (aged 35), of Land Dale Lawns, Springfield, Tallaght and Sharif Kelly (aged 47), of Pinewood Green Road, Balbriggan have both pleaded not guilty to the alleged murder.

Mr McGrath has also pleaded not guilty to firearms offences on the same occasion.

A third accused, Dean Evans (aged 24), of Grange Park Rise, Raheny, Dublin, failed to turn up for the trial, and has not been located by the gardaí. The non-jury court decided to proceed with his two co-accused in Mr Evans’s absence.

It is the second trial of Mr McGrath and Mr Kelly. The original trial collapsed after 55 days in January, 2015, and a retrial was ordered.

Today, Giollaíosa Ó'Lideadha SC, defending Mr Kelly, put it to Cullen that he had searched the internet over a period of months for information on the Witness Protection Programme before making an offer to the authorities to give evidence and Cullen agreed.

The witness disagreed that he was telling lies about agreeing to give evidence and he added: “You just bend the truth and twist everything to make it look like I was telling lies.

Cullen said he did not know why it took so long for the arrangements to put him in the Witness Protection Programme to happen.

He said that after he agreed in June, 2014 to give evidence in the first trial, he was moved from a high security prison to another prison and then he was interviewed by the gardaí.

There was tight security at the Criminal Courts of Justice for Cullen’s appearance in the witness box.

Mr Butterly (aged 35) was shot dead outside The Huntsman Inn, Gormanston, Co Meath on March 6, 2013.

Previously the court has heard that, over a year after the shooting, Cullen offered to the gardaí to make statements on a number of cases including the Butterly shooting, the murder of convicted drug-trafficker Eamon Kelly and other IRA activities.

The evidence is being heard as part of a voir dire or ‘trial within a trial’, and will help the court's three judges to decide on the admissibility of Cullen's evidence, to which the accused men's counsels are objecting.

Mr Ó'Lideadha has suggested to the court that Cullen and the DPP had made a deal to drop the murder charge before the witness gave his statement to gardaí.

The trial is continuing before Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding, with Judge John O’Hagan and Judge Anne Ryan.

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