State Archives: Extraditing Australia’s most wanted man

Robert Trimbole was the most wanted man in Australia when he was arrested in Ireland on October 25, 1984. He was wanted in connection with at least three murders and organising drug smuggling.

A corrupt policeman warned him of his impending arrest in 1981, so he fled Australia.

Gardaí became aware of Trimbole’s presence in this country, and Australian police sent over a detective to verify his identity. But there was no extradition treaty between Ireland and Australia. Negotiations had begun in 1972, and the Irish side had initialled a draft extradition agreement in 1977, but the Australians never finalised it.

There were therefore no legitimate grounds to arrest Trimbole for crimes committed in Australia. Gardaí arrested him anyway and charged him under section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act, which suggested the unarmed Trimbole had been in possession of an illegal firearm.

Trimbole resisted extradition, with the help of eminent senior counsel Patrick McEntee, who claimed his client should be freed at once because his arrest on a trumped up charge was a deliberate violation of his constitutional rights. The High Court agreed on February 5, 1985.

Lionel Bowen, acting prime minister of Australia, instructed Peter Lawler, the Australian ambassador to Ireland, to ask Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald to ensure Trimbole was not freed.

“The Australian prime minister and others in his positions would be accused by political opponents of incompetence in the conduct of foreign affairs,” Lawler warned.

He asked that Trimbole be deported to Australia, to some designated third country, or else the Australian police be allowed to interrogate him in Ireland.

This would, of course, have meant holding without legal grounds. The Supreme Court promptly affirmed the High Court ruling that Trimbole’s arrest had been unlawful and that he should therefore be freed without delay.

He was released that day and promptly disappeared. He reportedly chartered a small aircraft to fly him to Spain. At the time he was suffering from terminal cancer, and he died little over a year later, but not before his case had roused passions in Australia.

Neville Wran, prime minister of New South Wales, complained that the whole thing was “an Irish joke”. Wran later telegraphed an apology to Joe Small, the Irish ambassador in Canberra, for the comment. “I should have been more sensitive than to use such an expression,” he said.

The extradition process came in for further focus later in the year when the conviction of Dominic McGlinchey, the head of the Irish National Liberation Army, was unanimously overturned by the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal in October 1985. He had been the first person to be extradited from the Republic to the North over a so-called political offence.

McGlinchy was wanted in Northern Ireland in connection with a 1977 murder of an elderly woman. After he was arrested in the Republic, a district court ruled that he should be extradited, and the High Court affirmed that decision. McGlinchey appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court decided in December 1982 that he should be extradited, but by then he had jumped bail and, before long, became the most wanted man in the country.

On being cornered by two gardaí in Carrigtwohill, Co Cork, in early December 1983, he produced a pistol and forced them to strip, and then went off with their uniforms.

McGlinchey was finally arrested in Clare after a shootout with gardaí on March 17, 1984. He was given the bum’s rush and handed over at the border that night.

When his murder conviction was overturned on appeal in October 1985, he was handed back to An Garda Síochána at the border to face charges in connection with the shootout at the time of his arrest. Upon conviction, he was sentenced to ten years in jail in March 1986.

He would probably have been better off if he had served the full term. But he was released early and he was murdered while on the telephone in a Dundalk telephone booth in February 1994. Two men had shot him 14 times. Nobody has ever held responsible for the murder.

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