State claims husband’s case over killing is ‘bound to fail’

The State has asked the High Court to strike out an action for damages brought by the widower of murdered mother-of-two Sylvia Roche Kelly.

The body of Ms Roche Kelly, from Sixmilebridge, Co Clare, was found lying face-down in the bath of a hotel in December 2007, after she met her murderer while out celebrating her 33rd birthday. She had been violently beaten and strangled.

Five years ago, Gerard McGrath, 24, Ballywalter, Knockavilla, Co Tipperary, was sentenced at the Central Criminal Court to life imprisonment after admitting murdering Ms Roche Kelly at the Clarion Hotel, Limerick, on December 8, 2007.

McGrath was on bail at that time on a charge of assaulting a female taxi driver in April 2007. The victim’s husband, Lorcan Roche Kelly, was in the High Court yesterday for the pre-trial application.

On behalf of his two children, Mr Roche Kelly has sued the State and other parties, including the Garda Commissioner, for damages alleging his wife’s killer was “free to commit the crime of murder when he should have been in custody”. The defendants deny all claims.

The central issue in the action is the fact the killer was on bail at the time of the murder. Central to the case is that gardaí did not present a case opposing bail and McGrath was granted his liberty and was at large as a result. The president of the High Court was yesterday given what counsel for the Roche Kellys, Andrew Sexton SC called the “stark dates” of the case.

He said McGrath was charged with assault on a female taxi driver in Co Cavan in April 2007 and was admitted to station bail and later remanded on continuing bail.

In October 2007, McGrath was accused of the false imprisonment of a young girl in Co Tipperary and was later given bail at Limerick District Court.

Counsel said gardaí objected to bail but did not bring the case of the assault on the taxi driver to the attention of the judge.

Counsel said Virginia District Court was not told on December 3, 2007 that McGrath had been charged with the false imprisonment of the girl.

Ms Roche Kelly was murdered five days later.

In January 2008, McGrath pleaded guilty to the assault of the taxi driver for which he got nine months. That same month, he was given a mandatory life sentence for Ms Kelly Roche’s murder; and in February 2008, he was sentenced to 10 years for the Tipperary abduction; to run concurrently with the life sentence. State counsel Hugh O’Keeffe SC contended the Roche Kelly action is “bound to fail”

He said Ms Roche Kelly was an unfortunate woman who was killed by McGrath but he contended there was no special connection between the killer and his victim that gave particular rise to a duty of care. He said Ms Roche Kelly was not a complainant and had no prior connection to McGrath.

Counsel said it was a simple negligence action and no malice is alleged against gardaí, and the court now had to decide if the case could succeed and go to action.

Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns reserved judgment in the case.


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