GARDAÍ mounted a roadblock to stop photographers following a woman who had an affair with murder accused Eamonn Lillis at his trial last week. The National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI) has written a strongly-worded letter of complaint to the garda commissioner about the special treatment the witness received.
Jean Treacy, who told the court she had started the affair with Lillis eight weeks before the death of his wife Celine Cawley, could not be photographed as she entered and left the new Criminal Courts of Justice building through the service entrance under garda escort.
Detectives provided exceptional protective treatment of the witness because Treacy said she did not want to be photographed and has suffered serious stress as a result of the level of media interest in the case.
The manner in which the massage therapist arrived and left court was unusual compared to the absence of security for other witnesses in the trial. There does not appear to be any reason why Treacy should receive protective treatment from the gardaí as there is no evidence of the witness being under any form of threat.
A number of detectives gathered around the witness after she had finished giving evidence. Gardaí then asked prison officers if they could use the lift exit, reserved for those in custody.
Once given permission, Treacy was escorted out the back way and into an awaiting garda van, which took her away from the courts building. Further down the road, as Treacy switched into another vehicle, gardaí set up a road block on North Brunswick Street in order to prevent photographers from following or taking pictures.
Before Treacy gave her evidence, another witness and neighbour, who said she heard screams on the morning of Cawley's death, was also led out the back of the courts building. One senior detective said it was highly unusual for witnesses, whose safety was not under threat, to be afforded such protection. The source added that the move may have backfired as the media is now more "determined than ever" to track down Treacy and print her photograph.
The NNI last week wrote to garda commissioner Fachtna Murphy complaining of the actions taken by gardaí in protecting the witness and asking that it not happen in the future.
A garda source said the letter complained in strong language that detectives has "misused" their powers to shield a witness. It is likely a meeting will be held to discuss the issue.
It is the view of garda management that it has the right to protect a witness from the media if it sees fit.
The NNI is concerned that what happened in this case will set a trend. When the new building was being designed, the security and privacy of people in custody was reflected in an underground complex which can accommodate 100 prisoners.