A lawyer told the Supreme Court today that Co Donegal man Frank Shortt is "still living the nightmare" for his wrongful conviction and arrest on charges of allowing the sale of drugs at his former nightclub in Inishowen.
Mr Hugh Mohan SC said that the €500,000 awarded to Mr Shortt for the 27 months he spent in prison was "inadequate".' He said that the President of the High Court Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan should have awarded damages for the continued physical and mental damage suffered by Mr Shortt and which he will suffer indefinitely into the future.
Mr Mohan was opening an appeal against the High Court damages awarded last year to Mr Shortt for his ordeal which began in 1992 and continued until the Court of Criminal Appeal found that he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
Mr Mohan said that Mr Justice Finnegan in the High Court had taken no account of the ongoing human distress being suffered by Mr Shortt. He said that Mr Shortt who was a former alcoholic "fell off the wagon" during his legal actions, his back and heart problems were exacerbated and he is carrying the burden of what happened to him around with him on a daily basis.
"This is a man who is still living the nightmare to a significant extent to this day," he added. Mr Mohan submitted that Mr Shortt should be awarded aggravated damages and he said that the figure of €50,000 awarded by the High Court for exemplary damages was inadequate.
Last year the High Court awarded some €1.93m damages and legal costs - estimated at hundreds of thousands of euro - to Mr Shortt.
The President of the High Court, Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan, said at the time that the case of Mr Shortt had involved an "outrageous abuse of power" by some gardaí and the circumstances of the case had led to his including €50,000 as exemplary damages in the award.
In a reserved judgment following a hearing to assess the amount of damages, Mr Justice Finnegan said Mr Shortt's suffering could fairly be said to have spanned a period of 12 years. Mr Shortt had entered prison at the age of 60, when it must be expected that the rigours of prison life would have a greater effect upon him than on a young man.
While in prison, he had hanging over him a further six charges with a real possibility of his being convicted and having a further lengthy prison sentence imposed upon him, the judge noted. That threat was not removed until 2000.
Mr Shortt, now aged 70, had sued the Garda Commissioner and the State. His lawyers had claimed Mr Shortt was "destroyed" as a result of being wrongfully convicted and jailed for on charges of allowing the sale of drugs at his Point Inn premises, Quigley's Point.
Damages were awarded under a number of headings. They included €806,221 for losses related to the Point Inn and a caravan park which Mr Shortt had owned. A sum of €550,000 was awarded for loss of profits, net of tax, at the Point Inn. General damages of €500,000 under the Criminal Procedure Act (relating to the period spent in jail) were also included.
After Mr Shortt's second trial, he decided the Point Inn premises be sold but the building was destroyed by fire in March 1995. A receiver was appointed to his caravan park in September 1995. The receiver sold the Point and caravan park for £152,000 (Irish pounds) and VAT. After the International Fund for Ireland (which had approved a grant for the Point) and creditors and costs were discharged, there was nothing for Mr Shortt, the court said.
Mr Shortt, a married father of five with an address at Redcastle, Co Donegal, had served 27 months in prison, including some months in "inhumane" conditions in a cell measuring 10 feet by seven feet, his lawyers said.
Mr Shortt was convicted initially in 1995. His first appeal against his conviction was rejected but after his release in 1998 he pursued the matter and secured a fresh appeal. In November 2000 the DPP informed the Court of Criminal Appeal that he was not opposing Mr Shortt's appeal.
In July 2000, the CCA decided that Mr Shortt had been the victim of a miscarriage of justice. It ruled the miscarriage was on grounds of newly-discovered facts - the deliberate suppression of material by two gardai, Det Garda Noel McMahon and Suprt Kevin Lennon. Both gardai were formerly attached to Buncrana garda station and were involved in "Operation Spider", an undercover garda operation into alleged drug dealing at the Point Inn in 1992.
Dealing with general damages Mr Justice Finnegan referred to the major elements in Mr Shortt's account for which he required to be compensated.
They included the effect upon him of being charged, tried, convicted and imprisoned in terms of stress and anxiety; and the period of 27 months for which he was detained in prison taking into account the conditions under which sentence was served.
They also included the effect on him physically and mentally and in terms of personal injury of his imprisonment; his exclusion from family life; and the effect upon his reputation and standing in his community.
Mr Short was an accountant and his conviction had led to his membership of his institute being under threat.
Mr Justice Finnegan said there was an "outrageous abuse of power" by garda officers. Evidence was planted and perjured evidence was relied upon. It had not been expected by the gardaí that Mr Shortt would be sent to prison but when he was they took no step to remedy the situation.
The judge said he was satisfied the circumstances of the case fully justified an award of substantial exemplary damages - which he put at €50,000.