16 Aug 2022

'Overwhelming' evidence against man accused of armed robbery, hijacking and threat to kill - Court told

'Overwhelming' evidence against man accused of armed robbery, hijacking and threat to kill - Court told

There is "overwhelming" evidence against a man accused of the armed robbery of a bookies and the hijacking of a woman's car at gunpoint because the State contends he dropped his phone at the scene, the Special Criminal Court has heard in closing speeches on Tuesday. 

The comments were made by the prosecution at the closing of the case against Trevor Byrne (41) of Cappagh Road, Finglas West, Dublin 11, who is charged with the 2010 robbery along with possession of a firearm and threatening to kill the driver of the hijacked getaway car.

Mr Byrne denies five charges arising from the armed robbery of BoyleSports in Applewood Village in Swords, Co Dublin, on March 19, 2010. 

In his closing speech, Mr Shane Costelloe SC, prosecuting, said that there was "no suggestion that these crimes weren't committed" but said that it for the three-judge court to decide if Mr Byrne committed them.

Counsel said the case against Mr Byrne was "overwhelming" as the court had heard evidence from a detective who identified Mr Byrne from CCTV from the bookies, as well as evidence that a phone found at the scene after the robbery belonged to the accused.

Mr Costelloe said it was the State's case that on the day of the robbery two men entered the BoyleSports, one of whom was Mr Byrne. The pair entered the public facilities but did not emerge for 35 minutes.

CCTV footage shows two males, now wearing masks and brandishing handguns, appearing from the bathroom and robbing the tills, said Mr Costelloe. Counsel added that, aside from balaclavas, the two wore "identical" clothing to that which they had on when they entered.

Mr Costelloe said it would "defy logic" if one of the two males was not Mr Byrne, adding that there was continuous CCTV footage of the bathroom door showing their entry and exit.  

Counsel said that the trial had already heard from Ms Helen Leigh, whose car was hijacked at gunpoint in the aftermath of the robbery and who had observed the two men searching a bag and their pockets for a dropped phone.

During the getaway hijacking, Ms Leigh said that she heard one male refer to the other with a name "beginning with a T" and that one of the men was saying that he "couldn't believe" that he had dropped a phone.

Counsel said that Mr Byrne and the other male had put Ms Leigh through "utter terror" for 15-20 minutes and that they stole a piece of paper with an address on it as a threat against her going to gardaí.

Mr Costelloe said the dropped phone was examined and a contact for 'Ma' was discovered. That number was then checked with Intreo and the Passport Office. The number was registered with Intreo as belonging to Maureen Byrne and a birth certificate for Mr Trevor Christopher Byrne listed his mother as Maureen Byrne.

Counsel said that Mr Byrne also used the 'Ma' phone number and the family's home address on a passport application.

When arrested, two more phones were seized from Mr Byrne and both had the same 'Ma' contact and number stored.

Mr Costelloe said that when Mr Byrne was arrested, the accused said that he had lost the phone recovered from the scene about a year beforehand.

However, counsel said that text interactions were found on the phone to the 'Ma' number up to a day before the robbery.

In conclusion, Mr Costelloe said that the case against Mr Byrne had "overwhelmingly been proven beyond a reasonable doubt" and that "the dropped phone ultimately put him [Mr Byrne] in this position."

In 2011, Mr Byrne was charged with five offences relating to the armed robbery at BoyleSports in Swords the previous year, during Cheltenham Race Week on Gold Cup day.

 He is accused of robbing the shop manager Mr James Robertson of €1,490 at BoyleSports, Applewood Village, on March 19, 2010, and of possession of a firearm with intent to commit robbery on the same occasion.

 He is also charged with seizing a vehicle by threat of force and falsely imprisoning Ms Leigh at Thornleigh Avenue, to the rear of the bookies, on the same day. Mr Byrne is further charged with threatening to kill her at an unknown location between Thornleigh Avenue and Kilshane Cross in Co Dublin, that day. The accused has denied all of the charges.  

In his closing speech, defending barrister Mr John D Fitzgerald SC said that in circumstantial cases, "one strand of a case is not enough but that together they form a rope" but that in the case against Mr Byrne there were "certainly not strands, and there's no rope".

Mr Fitzgerald said that Miss Leigh in her evidence was not clear which of the two men was calling who by a name beginning with a T and therefore it was unclear who had lost an item.

"At its height, that does not constitute a strand," said counsel.

Mr Fitzgerald said that Detective Garda Pat McDonagh had identified the defendant from the bookies' CCTV before the robbery but that the detective had not seen Mr Byrne for five years.

"He [Det Gda McDonagh] hadn't seen Trevor Byrne in five years, since he was 25 and he's now 30 [on the 2010 CCTV]. He also accepted that he couldn't see his eyes and acknowledged that you can never be 100%. Memory is frail," said the barrister, who added "these strands hardly deserve the name".

"People can be 100% honest, 100% convinced and 100% wrong. There is an inherent frailty in identification evidence in all cases - caution has to be brought to bear," said counsel.

The barrister said that the identification system used by gardaí had been "opaque" and added that no notes were taken on the process.

During the trial, counsel said that he had been concerned about anyone identifying Mr Byrne from the CCTV having prior knowledge of him as a suspect.

Det McDonagh, in his evidence at the trial, said that he had no knowledge of who, if anyone, he was being asked to identify before going to view the CCTV.

Mr Fitzgerald said that nobody saw Mr Byrne drop the phone in the bookies and that earlier in the day the shop was full due to the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

Regarding Mr Byrne telling gardaí he had lost the dropped phone, Mr Fitzgerald said that what the defendant actually said in his Garda interview was: "One of them phones was stolen on me last year."

Counsel added that, despite forensic analysis, there were no fingerprints or DNA evidence from Mr Byrne on the phone that, he added, it was alleged was "not a burner phone" but the accused's own phone.

Mr Fitzgerald said it was striking that so much weight was being put on "one contact and one text, regarding Trevor Byrne's mother".

"Is that enough to carry a circumstantial case? One circumstance. One strand, not strands, and no rope. One number and one contact cannot bear that very heavy weight," he concluded.

Presiding judge Mr Justice Michael MacGrath, sitting with Ms Justice Sinéad Ní Chúlacháin and Ms Justice Marie Keane, adjourned the matter to May 20 for judgement.

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