CCTV footage proved crucial to prosecution

Shane Fitzgerald of Upper Knockeen, Knockduff, Meelin, Newmarket, Co Cork, was found guilty at Tralee Circuit Court of dangerous drivingcausing the death of Paud O'Leary at Scrahanfadda, Gneeveguilla. Picture: Domnick Walsh/ Eye Focus

BIG Brother is watching — all the time.

With the proliferation of CCTV, there is an Orwellian sense that ordinary citizens are under constant surveillance, be it on the street or in bars and nightclubs.

These cameras, not always easily visible to the public, have become a key element in criminal investigation, as evidenced by the trial of Shane Fitzgerald.

This case was based on circumstantial evidence which leaned heavily on CCTV. Without the footage, the 23-year-old from Meelin, near Newmarket, Co Cork, would never have been charged, according to top legal sources.

Gaps in the prosecution case included: A lack of direct evidence of the incident, which was not witnessed by anybody; the vehicle involved mysteriously vanished; the exact point of impact on the road was not established; and there were questions about the debris, given that the scene was not sealed off for nine hours.

Nonetheless, more than three hours of CCTV footage tracked Mr Fitzgerald’s pre and post-incident movements, offering vital information to a jury which found enough links in the circumstantial chain of events to convict him of dangerous driving, causing the death of Paud O’Leary.

The tragic case raised high emotions, especially in the Cork-Kerry border area.

Failure to find the metallic grey Toyota Land Cruiser involved in the hit and run —despite intensive searches in the Duhallow area by gardaí and dozens of volunteers — added intrigue to the saga and will keep it alive in the folk memory for many years.

Mr O’Leary, a father of four who was a farmer and school caretaker, left his home on his bike at around 5am on July 1, 2012, on a training spin for the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle.

CCTV footage proved crucial to prosecution

Paud O’Leary died while training for a charity cycle.

He met his death less than 2km from home, struck by an oncoming vehicle and cast into a vegetation-shrouded drain.

He was heading towards Killarney and the prosecution case was that he was on his correct side. The vehicle was coming from the Killarney direction and did not remain at the scene. Examination of debris showed it was a dark grey Toyota Land Cruiser and its right front side collided with Mr O’Leary.

When the cyclist did not return home that morning, a search began. The spot where he lay was not visible from the road and his body was found at around 1.15pm, eight hours after the incident. The developments sparked a painstaking investigation — involving up to 60 gardaí at one stage, in collaboration with British and Australian police — including a trawl for CCTV footage which would show the movements of Fitzgerald and the Land Cruiser on June 30/July 1.

The vehicle was captured on CCTV in Newmarket, Co Cork, late on the night of June 30. It was subsequently seen parking near Killarney railway station at around 11.30pm, and tracked from around 5am on July 1 as far as Ballydesmond.

Shane Fitzgerald was the registered owner of a Land Cruiser.

Within 24 hours of the incident, he went to England and soon obtained a visa to go to Perth, Australia.

He later returned to England for about 12 days before being arrested by Metropolitan police at Heathrow on February 11, 2014, as he was boarding a flight back to Australia.

He was extradited to Ireland and charged with dangerous driving causing the death of Mr O’Leary, near Gneeveguilla, Co Kerry.

In CCTV evidence at his trial, the accused, who cut a distinctive, bulky figure, was shown drinking and socialising in licensed premises in Killarney.

He had been in a number of pubs before going to the residents’ bar of the Eviston House Hotel, where some of his friends were staying, and consuming up to five pint bottles of cider.

Friends from North Cork said a lot of alcohol was taken by the group that night. Some identified him from stills of the footage, with one saying he was “messier” than the rest in the residents’ bar. At one stage the cameras showed him apparently asleep, his head resting on the counter and a barman waking him up. He left the hotel at 4.33am and CCTV showed him apparently staggering at times as he walked through the streets to the Land Cruiser, which he drove away at around 5am.

At the same time, Paud O’Leary was up and preparing for his early morning cycle. The incident is believed to have occurred around 5.15am. Businesses are expected to have CCTV, but some private houses on the rural road between Killarney and Gneeveguilla also have it, which helped track the Land Cruiser as it headed east towards the Cork-Kerry border.

Mr Fitzgerald was traced to a hostel outside Fremantle where he was interviewed by an Australian policeman, whom he told he had shipped his Land Cruiser to Leeds and sold it privately for £10,000 (€13,800), using money from the sale to fund his trip to Australia.

CCTV was used to rebut “untruths” in a statement Fitzgerald made to a federal agent in Fremantle. He said in a statement that he was back in Meelin between 2am to 3am on July 1; that he had two or three beers in Killarney; and he travelled home via Scartaglin, which would have meant deviating from the shortest route home.

However, CCTV showed the Land Cruiser passing O’Keeffe’s shop, less than 2km on the Killarney side of the crash scene, at 5.11am. It was next seen passing the Munster Joinery factory at Ballydesmond at 5.18am, which meant it would have passed the incident scene at around 5.13am.

Sgt David Leslie, who was responsible for compiling CCTV exhibits, later travelled the same journey by car and found the CCTV timeline and the time it took to travel between various locations matched.

Much play was made at the trial about the failure to find the Land Cruiser and that Mr Fitzgerald had made his way to England within a day of the crash, with the prosecution telling the jury they could draw “inferences”.

Each day during the four-week trial, the O’Leary and Fitzgerald families sat in the gallery. Paud O’Leary’s widow Margaret and her teenage daughter Shannon sat in the right side front row, flanked by family members. At the other side of the gallery were Shane Fitzgerald’s parents, Dan Fitzgerald and Nora O’Mahony.

The case centred on two questions: Was Fitzgerald driving the vehicle at the time of the incident, and was the driving dangerous? The prosecution submitted he was driving dangerously and his consumption of alcohol was the cause of the accident. Clearly, the jury agreed on both counts.

READ MORE: Man found guilty in Kerry hit-and-run case


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