Murder trial halts due to non-appearance of gardai

The murder trial of a Galway traveller ground to a halt on its first day today when up to six garda witnesses failed to appear at the Central Criminal Court.

The murder trial of a Galway traveller ground to a halt on its first day today when up to six garda witnesses failed to appear at the Central Criminal Court.

The missing gardaí were first noticed when prosecuting counsel Mr Edward Comyn SC called them up to the witness box to give evidence but no one appeared.

Mr Justice John Quirke was left with no option but to adjourn the trial until 11am tomorrow morning.

Explaining the situation to the jury, Mr Justice Quirke said it was "inexplicable" that the gardaí were not present even though they were "required by the court" to be there.

"I'm very sorry that your personal lives are being disrupted. I hope that I will receive an explanation for this before morning," he said.

The accused, Mr Patrick Harty, (aged 30), with an address at Carrowbrowne Halting Site, Carrowbrowne, Headford Road, Galway, denies the murder of Mr Thomas Harty, (aged 26), at Woodlands Park Halting Site, near Portarlington, Co Laois on May 16, 1999.

He also denies possession of a shotgun with intent to endanger life.

Opening the case for the prosecution, Mr Edward Comyn SC told the jury the accused was the driver of the getaway car for two men who broke into Mr Thomas Harty's caravan and shot him twice as he lay in bed.

He said that even though the accused did not go into the caravan nor did he have the gun or pull the trigger, he was "equally guilty as the men who pulled the trigger as it was a part of a joint enterprise".

"All the people who were in that arrangement are equally guilty of murder" he added.

The court heard the Harty family was split into two feuding branches, one called the 'Donnacha' Hartys of which the deceased was a member and the 'Nay' Hartys of which the accused is a member.

"The Nay Hartys held to blame the Donnacha Hartys, particularly Thomas, for the violent death of one of their own," Mr Comyn told the court.

The court heard from Mr Comyn that the deceased was in bed asleep with his wife and four children when his wife was disturbed by a noise at the caravan door.

"Suddenly the door opened and two men came in, one of them holding a gun. He came over to where her husband was and discharged the gun as he lay there. He was not killed immediately and pulled the bed covers up over his chest," Mr Comyn told the jury.

A struggle ensued between the gunman and Mrs Harty as she tried to wrestle the gun off him but she was overpowered and the assailant "discharged the gun into her husband again," he added.

The wife of the deceased, Mrs Philomena Harty, gave evidence in court today that she was present in the caravan at the time of her husband's murder.

"I was between asleep and woke and the noise woke me. When I got up they were landed in the floor. One at the door and one came over with the shotgun in his hand," she said. "The man at the door had a shovel in his hand," she added.

Under cross-examination from Mr Gerard Clarke SC, Mrs Harty admitted her husband had been charged with the murder of Mr Danny Harty of the 'Nay' Hartys and spent seven months in prison in Limerick until his family got bail for him.

She denied her husband had beaten her up a few weeks previous to his death. "Me and a girl had a simple argument. Tommy was separating both of us and I fell against the ground," she told Mr Clarke. She agreed she attended hospital with a sore jaw "a couple of weeks before May" that year. "There was nothing wrong with it, it was just bruised," Mrs Harty said.

Mrs Harty's brother and sister-in-law also gave evidence in court today to confirm they were woken in the middle of the night by screams on May 16, 1999. " I heard my sister screaming" Mr Daniel Harty, (aged 33), told the court. He ran over to his sister's caravan and found Mr Thomas Harty "lying down on the bed".

"There was a hole in his spine, down low. There was just a little blood coming from the hole in his back. Philomena was screaming outside. When we turned him over he had another hole in his chest. He was dead on the spot," he added.

Mr Thomas Harty was pronounced dead in Portlaoise hospital at 6am that morning.

The trial continues at the Central Criminal Court tomorrow before Mr Justice John Quirke and a jury of eight men and four women.

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