An armed robber claimed today that elite gardaí gave no warning before shooting two of his accomplices during a foiled post office raid.
Convicted criminal Gavin Farrelly was a witness at an inquest into the deaths Colm Griffin and Eric Hopkins.
Farrelly said he never heard anyone shout “armed garda” while they carried out the robbery in the Village Store, Lusk, north Co Dublin, until after shots were fired.
Griffin, 33, of Canon Lillis Avenue, and Hopkins, 24, of Lower Rutland Street, both Dublin, died from gun shot wounds inflicted by members of the emergency response unit as they tried to steal €48,500 on the morning of May 26 2005.
Farrelly – who pounded on the glass hatch of the post office counter 12 times with a sledgehammer, terrifying staff inside – was jailed for 10 years for his part in the crime.
Witnesses who feared for their lives previously told coroner Dr Brian Farrell they heard officers shot “armed garda, put down your weapons” a number of times before any gunfire.
“I know what I heard,” Farrelly told Dublin City Coroner’s Court.
“I remembered it like it happened five minutes ago.”
Farrelly told the hearing he travelled to Lusk at 6.30am with Griffin and Hopkins in a white Mercedes and changed in to a Black Skoda which was waiting for them in a housing estate in the village.
He disputed evidence given earlier by a delivery man that gardai shouted at the men before they entered the store.
“There was no gardaí around,” he said.
“They could have stopped us there.”
Farrelly said he walked in to the store through the deli counter first, followed by Griffin and Hopkins.
As the bigger of the three, his job was to smash the glass partition.
“I had the sledgehammer and started banging on the hatch,” he said.
“I didn’t hear anyone shouting armed garda.
“I heard three shots. I thought it was Colm shooting warning shots.
“Then I heard ’armed garda’.”
Farrelly said when he got down on the ground an officer pulled his balaclava over his eyes.
“One asked if I was Gavin Farrelly,” he said.
“They said we knew yourself and Colm was there, but didn’t know who Eric was.”
Farrelly said he couldn’t see anything and didn’t know Griffin and Hopkins were dead until he heard the news on RTE on the way to Blanchardstown Garda Station in an unmarked car.
Under cross examination, Shane Murphy SC for An Garda Siochana, asked Farrelly if he was stressed and pumped up and focused on his job of smashing the screen.
“Yes,” he replied.
Mr Murphy suggested that he was so hyped up he blocked out warnings from gardai and continued to hit the screen even after the shots were fired.
“I thought Colm was letting off warning shots,” he repeated.
“I stopped when I heard ’armed garda’ and I turned and saw a gun pointing at me.
“They weren’t speaking before shots were fired and I know what I heard.”
Earlier, the jury watched a 40 minute tape of dramatic CCTV footage from inside the store.
The tape showed Griffin pointing a gun directly at customers as he entered the rear of the shop and then at the officers who shot him.
Just two seconds later, Eric Hopkins was shot in the chest as he appeared to run from the post office area towards the main shop.
A second bullet hit him in the head as he dropped to the ground.
The footage, taken from three different camera angles, also showed gardai in the shop before the raid, and then working with ambulance crews to save the men’s life.
As the footage played, some of the dead men’s relatives cried while others left the court house.
Security remains tight at the city courthouse today, where the elite garda members are due to give evidence behind a a closed curtain to protect their identity.