Judge rejects ‘biased reporting’ claims in trial transfer attempt

News Reporter

Reporter:

News Reporter

Email:

newsroom@longfordleader.ie

Judge rejects ‘biased reporting’ claims in  trial transfer attempt

A judge has thrown out an application made by a Longford man and a number of co-accused to have their trial for violent disorder heard in Dublin due to “relentless” and “biased” newspaper reporting.

Edward 'Blondie' Stokes, with addresses at Bolie, Granard and Ferriskill, Granard, through his barrister Pat O'Sullivan, submitted an application at a recent sitting of Longford Circuit Criminal Court over fears the north Longford man would not be given a fair trial.

Mr Stokes, together with Noreen Stokes and Shannon Stokes, of 2 Auburn Lodge, Edgeworthstown and Jane Marion Ward, Lisnanagh, Edgeworthstown, were all charged with violent disorder in connection to an incident on December 15 2017.

The incident, outside the doors of Longford Courthouse, resulted in each of the accused being issued with Section 15 charges.

Mr Sullivan, specifically took issue with a number of articles which had been carried in the Longford Leader and national press over an incident which had stemmed from December 2018.

In that episode and which was published in a number of publications, Mr Stokes is alleged to have become embroiled in a skirmish with a then garda sergeant during which the officer's firearm was discharged.

The incident, subject to a Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) inquiry, was discussed at length along with a series of newspaper articles in its immediate aftermath.

Mr Sullivan, in particular, took issue with a series of stories in The Evening Herald, Irish Sun, Irish Independent and The Longford Leader.

“It is the relentless nature of the reports and the fact they are biased without any doubt,” he said, while calling into question how certain journalists and members of the media were so well informed.

“There has been quite a lot of leaked information by one arm of the State in particular which would make it impossible for Mr Stokes to be given a fair trial in Longford,” he argued.

In those circumstances, Mr Sullivan suggested there was little chance of being able to pick a jury from citizens resident in Co Longford without some form of prejudice being shown against his client.

The then garda sergeant, who was at the centre of the initial probe, has been cleared of any wrongdoing after a lengthy investigation by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman (GSOC).

Mr Stokes, as first reported by the Leader last month, appeared before a Dublin court together with his wife over accusations they provided false information to GSOC.

They are both accused of knowingly providing false or misleading information to GSOC on February 5 last at the watchdog’s offices on Abbey Street Upper in Dublin 1.

Mr Sullivan said the case was one which was far more straightforward.

“There are High Court proceedings in train regarding the personal injuries to Mr Stokes and issues in relation to the GSOC investigation,” he said.

In pausing to reveal no dog was in fact shot on the day, Mr Sullivan added:

“Mr Stokes was shot in the leg and hospitalised.

“There seems to be a denial by the State that there was any shot at all and that it was a dog that was shot.”

In response, DPP counsel Shane Gerety disputed much of what Mr Sullivan had alleged, adding that in some of the articles submitted to the court Mr Stokes was himself “posing for photos” or had “provided” photographs to the media at his own behest.

Mr Gerety also called into question claims that an “arm of the state” as alluded to by Mr Sullivan was deliberately leaking information to the media concerning Mr Stokes.

He said all the articles were simply commentaries of what was already in the public domain, referencing an article written by Liam Cosgrove for the Longford Leader on November 6 last.

In reading out the headline: 'Pair in court over GSOC shot dog probe', Mr Gerety said the article was little more than a “narrative of what occurred”.

Mr Sullivan responded for a second time, insisting the 'posed photos' referred to by Mr Gerety, were images various media outlets had ascertained from social media site, Facebook.

In his summation and eventual ruling, Judge Eoin Garavan rejected the application.

He said on balance and after weighing up both arguments, the submissions made on behalf of Mr Stokes fell short of holding any trial in Longford as being “manifestly unjust”.

Similar applications made on behalf of Noirin Stokes and Shannon Stokes were also thrown out.

All four were remanded on continuing bail to appear back before Longford Circuit Criminal Court on January 14, 2020.