The son of a garda sergeant who was extradited back to Ireland from the US to face charges relating to a robbery 11 years earlier, has had the charges against him dismissed and the State is now facing a massive civil action for initiating the extradition on tenuous evidence.
Joseph Byrne (42), Belfry Gardens, Dundalk, had denied being involved in a robbery at the Readypenny Inn, Killencoole, in March 1997. He also denied being involved in a burglary at a house in Allardstown, Knockbridge in November 1996. On Wednesday, Judge Michael O'Shea at Dundalk Circuit Court directed that the charges be dismissed
There were no witnesses linking Byrne to either crime. However, Byrne was arrested and gave a statement to gardaí and the DPP decided to proceed with the extradition.
Byrne, who has a wife and child living in New York, this weekend expressed his relief that the saga, which began 13 years ago in 1997, had finally come to an end. "I do feel a huge amount of relief. It's been an extremely stressful time for my family," he told the Sunday Tribune. "I'm going to miss my daughter's first holy communion next week. It's been difficult to have her on the phone crying to me about all of this. I am angry with the gardaí for what we've gone through over the past few years. But I am just so relieved it has finally come to an end. As soon as I get my passport, I'm going back to my life in New York."
Byrne came into contact through construction work with two INLA men in Dundalk in the 1990s. In 1996, one of these men produced a gun and showed it to Byrne, who then reported this to gardaí as he was in fear of this man. Later that year, the INLA man who had shown him the gun told Byrne that he intended to carry out a burglary of a house of an elderly woman in November 1996. This burglary was believed to have been carried out by the INLA men.
In March 1997, the two INLA men again told Byrne that they intended to rob the Readypenny Inn. In the subsequent robbery at the pub, the two raiders stole £8,000 from the pub and tied up the proprietor's daughter. About two months later, Byrne was arrested.
Gardaí believed he played a role in the burglary and robbery and he gave gardaí a statement in custody. He also told gardaí the names of the two INLA men. Gardaí then arrested these two men. Both denied any involvement and have not been charged in relation to the crimes. One of these men is currently serving a prison sentence for rape. Having been released without charge, Byrne left the town because he was in fear of his life over repercussions from the INLA. Not long after, he moved to the US because his family felt it was no longer safe for him in Ireland. He was free to leave the country as he was not charged in relation to the burglary or robbery. Joseph Byrne met and married Eileen Grady in New York and has a daughter, Mairéad. He was involved in setting up and operating a construction company called Fane Construction.
Eight years later, he applied for a Green Card and Dundalk gardai provided the US authorities with a 'certificate of character,' a document confirming he had no criminal convictions in Ireland. But about 18 months later, the Irish authorities issued an arrest warrant for Byrne to be extradited to Ireland to face charges in relation to the burglary and robbery.
In sworn statements, the gardai and the DPP said there were witnesses linking Byrne to both of these crimes. During extradition proceedings in White Plains, New York, an affidavit lodged by the DPP stated he was wanted in relation to possession of a gun during the robbery.
However, no evidence relating to his alleged possession of a gun was raised by gardai at Dundalk Circuit Court during his trial last week. It also emerged that gardaí did not have any witnesses linking him to the burglary and the pub robbery, despite what was stated in the sworn affidavits. The elderly woman whose house was broken into had died many years previously.
Gardaí were provided with a document saying that the daughter of the proprietor at the Readypenny Inn would not medically be in a position to give evidence. Detectives were provided with this document before Byrne was extradited in January 2008.
Joseph's father is Tom Byrne a retired sergeant previously based at Dundalk station. The family is now considering legal action against An Garda Siochána and the state for providing the US authorities with "false affidavits" claiming there was evidence that Byrne had a gun and also that gardaí had witnesses linking Byrne to the two crimes, according to his father. The Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) is also investigating the family's complaints, which include his treatment by gardaí when arrested in 1997 and the manner in which they extracted a statement from him.