O'Farrell family deserve the facts after son and brother killed by repeat offender in hit-and-run

The criminal justice system failed in the manner in which it dealt with a compulsive criminal who was later involved in a fatal hit-and-run incident, writes Michael Clifford.

O'Farrell family deserve the facts after son and brother killed by repeat offender in hit-and-run

The criminal justice system failed in the manner in which it dealt with a compulsive criminal who was later involved in a fatal hit-and-run incident, writes Michael Clifford.

The late Shane O'Farrell
The late Shane O'Farrell

NEXT August, it will be eight years since Shane O’Farrell was killed by a hit-and-run driver while out cycling near his home in Co Monaghan.

The driver of the vehicle, Lithuanian man Zigimantas Gridziuska, had an appalling record before the criminal courts over the previous three years before the accident on August 2, 2011.

The most appalling aspect of it was the failure of the criminal justice system to process his crimes. There is a strong case to be made that, had he been dealt with properly by the system, he would not have been in a position to kill the 23-year-old law student.

That hypothetical and horrible scenario represents a lingering pain for the O’Farrell family. Nothing can bring Shane back to them, but they believe they are entitled, as citizens, to have possession of all the facts about the State’s failure in dealing with Gridziuska. That belief is one shared by the Dáil, which passed a motion last June calling for a statutory inquiry into these matters.

The Government continues to resist any effort to excavate the full truth. In the ensuing vacuum, Shane’s mother Lucia has worked tirelessly to uncover facts. In this, she represents one individual with a shovel while the State’s fleet of mechanical diggers sit nearby, silent and unused.

Her latest discovery, as reported today, is that the coroner’s court into her son’s death was not furnished with the full statements given in garda custody by Gridziuska on the day after the accident, after he gave himself up.

This may be a simple oversight. Such a scenario would be highly plausible were it not for a whole litany of oversights, errors, omissions, and failures throughout the whole narrative of Gridziuska’s engagement with law enforcement and our courts.

One possible explanation is that the coroner’s court was furnished with statements that had been used in the criminal trial in which Gridziuska was given a suspended sentence for failing to stop at the scene of the accident. (The judge in the trial directed the jury to find him not guilty of dangerous driving causing death as the evidence was not there to support the charge).

The coroner’s court was held on May 16, 2013. The criminal case was heard over three days the previous February.

Criminal trials often use redacted statements once the redactions are agreed between prosecution and defence. It is possible that there were redactions in the criminal trial and that those statements, rather than the originals, were then passed onto the coroner’s court.

If so, this would represent yet another error in the whole case, and one at a time when morsels of the truth were already tumbling out and the O’Farrells’ grief and justifiable anger in plain view.

The significance of the redaction in one of the statements was that it dealt with Gridziuska’s abuse of heroin and alcohol. Both versions had the following two lines:

Q: Were you drinking alcohol last night?

A: No.

But the statement read out at the coroner’s court did not have the following passage:

Q: Sometimes you drink heavy?

A: Last six months impossible, as my financial situation is very bad.

Q: Any drugs?

A: I have a problem with heroin. None yesterday.

Q: If you get your urine tested, what would it show?

A: You can take sample, last time I take heroin last November, I am clear.

Q: No drink and no drugs yesterday?

A: No.

Lucia O'Farrell, the mother of the late Shane O'Farrell
Lucia O'Farrell, the mother of the late Shane O'Farrell

Information that suggested Gridziuska had issues with heroin would have been embarrassing for the gardaí. On June 2010, he was convicted at Carrickmacross District Court on three counts of possession of heroin and sentenced to six months imprisonment. He never served the sentence.

On July 6, 2011, less than a month before the accident, he was in a car where gardaí discovered €50 worth of heroin. An associate of Gridziuska’s who was driving was ultimately convicted on that charge.

In the grander scheme of Gridzuska’s crimes — principally theft — heroin possession was not major, but the failure of the system to implement a prison sentence is inexplicable, yet typical of how the Lithuanian was dealt with.

For instance, on May 2, 2011 — three months before Shane O’Farrell was killed — Gridziuska was charged in Ardee, Co Louth, with five counts of theft.

The judge on that day was not told that, the previous January, Judge John O’Hagan had directed at Monaghan Circuit Court that a more serious theft charge be adjourned for a year on condition that Gridziuska stay out of trouble.

Judge O’Hagan also directed that, in the event of him being arrested for any theft offence in the meantime, he be immediately returned to his Circuit Court where he would be “going to jail”.

The judge in Ardee was told none of this and the Lithuanian was allowed to continue on his destructive way.

These are only a few of the more than dozen occasions in which the system failed in the manner in which it dealt with an individual who was undoubtedly troubled, but who was also a compulsive criminal.

Lucia O’Farrell and her family have uncovered much of the story, but a statutory inquiry would be required to get the full, unvarnished picture.

The O’Farrells deserve nothing less. Beyond that, citizens in general are entitled to know whether the system can be trusted, and if not what needs to be done to ensure that it can.

Long, painful experience suggests that the only way for that to come to pass is for an outside agency with required powers to investigate and report on a matter that is undoubtedly of significant public interest.

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