The Inside Story of the Lusk Killings


Garda killings and harassment 

The three unpublished Morris Tribunal reports are expected to reproach not just gardaí in Donegal but, at least by implication, the entire force. They are also expected to offer an implied rebuke to Michael McDowell for failing to respond to urgent recommendations in the two previous reports. McDowell's announcement on Friday 19 May that he was to examine the issue of Garda indiscipline concealed his failure to do anything on this score when the issue was first highlighted by the Morris Tribunal two years ago. But independently of what has gone on in Donegal, there is accumulating evidence of gross abuse of powers on the part of gardaí and in this issue of Village we address three cases that exemplify this. First the killing of an unarmed man in Lusk Co Dublin on 26 May last – a killing which so far gardaí have made no attempt to justify. We tell the story of what led to the killing of that man and an armed accomplice. We also tell the story of the Garda harassment of two families who have made official complaints about the deaths of family members after they had been in Garda custody.

The Inside story of the Lusk killings

John Byrne reports

The raid on Lusk post office last May was compromised from the start. Gardaí at the National Bureau of Investigation had been tipped off that an armed robbery was to take place at the north Co Dublin post office on 26 May and a huge operation was put in place. Members of the Emergency Response Unit (ERU), the Special Detective Unit and the National Surveillance Unit were involved – around 50 gardaí in total. They began covertly taking up their positions from around 5am that day. Some wore high-visibility jackets and hard hats to disguise themselves as builders.

At around 6.50am, a white Mercedes van carrying a number of men was seen by gardaí traveling on the M1 motorway towards Lusk. The van had been stolen. One of the men in the van was identified by gardaí as Colm Griffin, a 34-year-old man from the north inner city of Dublin. He had been in and out of jail in his youth and was "known to gardaí".

Back in Lusk village, gardaí became suspicious of a silver car that was parked opposite the post office. There was a man sitting in it by himself. One garda described him as repeatedly "looking in the direction of the post office." This garda suspected him of monitoring the post office, and reported seeing him getting out of the car at 7.35am, entering The Village shop, which contained the post office, buying a newspaper, and then returning to the car where he stayed "reading the paper, yet keeping an eye on the shop at all times".

Then, at around 7.55am, the An Post cash delivery van arrived at the post office. There was something strange about this morning's delivery: it was unusually early. Normally the An Post van would call to a few different post offices before arriving at Lusk. But this morning, the gardaí monitoring the robbery had instructed the driver to call to Lusk first. The van drove around the back of the post office to make the delivery.

The Village shop, which contains Lusk post office, has two entrances, one at front and back. The front part of the shop consists of an ATM machine, a sweet counter and a till. At the back of the shop in one corner is the post office, and a deli counter in the other. There is a corridor between the two which leads to the back entrance.

Inside The Village shop, neither the employees nor the owners of the shop or the post office were aware that anything was up: the gardaí had not informed them about the armed robbery or the garda operation to foil it. The shop was quite busy for that time of morning, but nobody noticed anything unusual. Linda Neary, the postmistress, was overseeing her employees, who were already at work in the back room of the post office sorting mail. She made sure to change the tape in the CCTV machine that monitored the post office. Victoria Kuminiate, the manager of the shop section, changed the tape in the CCTV machine that monitored the shop (although later she would be unsure as to whether she pressed record). Three women, two Lithuanians and Pole, who worked at the deli counter, were getting ready for work.

At 7.55 there was a knock on the front window pane of the post office. Linda Neary parted the vertical blinds and saw it was the An Post cash delivery. She noted it was early but received as normal. The An Post delivery man left almost immediately. Outside, gardaí reported seeing the silver car which had been parked across the road leaving shortly after the post office cash delivery had been made.

Just after the silver car had left the post office, a black Skoda was seen by gardaí driving into Lusk village. Gardaí reported seeing this vehicle in the village an hour earlier, and they now suspected that it contained the armed robbers, including Colm Griffin. Members of the gardaí were ordered to intercept the car if possible, but this did not happen: it got to The Village shop and turned down the alley that led to the car park behind it. Just at that moment, a delivery man was wheeling a trolley up the side alley towards the oncoming car. The car squeezed past him and he looked in to it. He told police, "It was at this stage I noticed a gun, a handgun on the lap of the passenger of this car... I could see the passenger beginning to roll down a balaclava over his face, he was wearing a beige coloured glove, something like a golfer's glove."

The gardaí began to move. Two gardaí mounted the roof of the building and headed towards the back of the building. Inside, two more gardaí, who were disguised as builders and were trying to "blend in" by buying cigarettes and chewing gum, moved towards the back of the shop. One knocked on the front window of the post office and displayed a Garda badge to the postmistress. She opened the door of the post office and let them in.

Just after 8am, Aldona Chawalik, who was working behind the deli counter that morning, turned to walk down the corridor between the post office and the deli to put a bread delivery in the freezer at the back of the shop. She saw "two or three" men in balaclavas running towards her. "They were masked with holes for the eyes. The masks were black wool. Their clothing was all dark. The first man had a black handgun... He pointed the gun at me and the other girls in the Deli. He said a few times, 'Stay on the floor and no one will be hurt.'" She also noticed that one of the men with the gunman "had a sledgehammer in his hands." She and the other girls fell to the ground behind the deli counter, shaking. Their view of what happened next was blocked by the Deli counter.

A plasterer who had just ordered a sandwich and a local farmer who was delivering eggs were near the Deli counter. The farmer told police, "I was stacking the shelves [beside the Deli counter] with eggs when next thing I heard was a man with a gun in his hand. He pointed the gun straight at me and shouted at me 'to get down'. I was taken by surprise by this and I hesitated. He shouted at me again and I got down on the ground." Apart from the one handgun and the sledge hammer, there was no evidence of any other weapons being carried by the raiders.

The man with the sledge hammer began banging on the glass pane at the post office counter. Some people in the shop heard the banging but were unsure whether it was gun fire or a sledge hammer.

Inside the post office were the two gardaí who had gone in there, along with the postmistress and the post office workers. They heard shouting outside, and then heard something being banged against the glass pane. "I could hear a number of bangs against the the hatch at this front window," said the postmistress. "I could see movement on the window... the glass [from the window] started spraying into the office. I could hear shouting and roaring going on. It was a male voice. I think this male voice said, 'Open up, let us in, give us your money,' words to that effect. I then remember hearing, 'armed guards, armed guards, put down your weapons – words to that effect. I think the guards may have said 'drop your weapons!".

Several other people heard the gardaí shouting warnings while the banging on the window pane was going on. But almost everybody in the shop appears not to have seen the subsequent shootings. There is some CCTV footage of the robbery, but at time of going to print the only people to have seen this are the Garda. The two men who were beside the deli counter were on the ground and did not see the shooting, and the women behind the deli counter were also on the ground and their view was blocked by the counter.

This is how one of the two gardaí who were inside the post office with the postmistress described what happened next. While the banging was going on, "D/Garda A [the other garda who was with him in the post office] was standing in the doorway of the main entrance into the post office from the shop. I could not see into the shop area past D/Garda A. My recollections at this time was of tremendous loud banging and noise. At this time I heard a shot followed by another shot, these shots were different to the other noises I had heard earlier. The attack on the hatch still continued and by now the frame had broken. I then heard another shot... I would estimate that the time between the first shot and the last shot would be less than five seconds."

Numerous newspaper reports stated that the only person who fired a weapon was a garda, a member of the ERU.

The postmistress described hearing the gun shots. "I remember I heard a number of what I thought were gunshots, two of them maybe more, they were echoey loud bangs louder than the sledgehammer and a different noise to the sledgehanmer noise. These gunshots I remember were definitely after the Guards and announced "armed gardaí, drop your weapons or guns."

Others reported hearing varying numbers of shots, between two and five, all after the Garda had shouted a number of warnings. One person in the shop said the whole incident lasted around five minutes in total.

Victoria Kuminiate, who had been hiding in her office trying to ring Lusk Garda station (which was continuously engaged), described what she saw when she emerged to police. "When I came out of the office I saw a man lying on the ground near where the post box is. There was another man standing over him and he was wearing a yellow fluorescent jacket. I think the man on the ground had his face towards the floor; his hands were behind his back. I saw that the post office window was smashed and there was a lot of glass on the ground. I saw a second man lying on the ground in the space between between the hardware shelves and the post office and the Deli [ie near the post office counter]. He was lying on this back, I don't think he was moving."

This man was Colm Griffin. His weapon fell beside him when he was shot, according to gardaí. Victoria Kuminiate saw a third man who was alive being held by gardaí at the front entrance of the shop. She saw a fourth man lying beside the Deli counter lying on his back. This was Eric Hopkins, aged 24 from Rutland St in the north inner city. He was wearing a balaclava and was unarmed. (A post man who was in the post office described seeing Eric Hopkins. "I knew he was a goner, his eyes were at the back of his head.")

Victoria Kuminiate continued. "There was about eight to ten feet between [Eric Hopkins] and [Colm Griffin]. Both of these men were bare chested and the guards were trying to give them first aid."

The raider with the sledge hammer was arrested unharmed. He did not see Eric Hopkins and Colm Grffin being shot. They were being attended to by ERU medics. The ERU medics were soon joined by ambulance staff. One ambulance medic reported Eric Hopkins as having wounds to his left and right armpits. Another ambulance medic reported Colm Griffin as having two bullet entry wounds to his chest and neck. They were taken to Beamount hospital where they were pronounced dead shortly after 9am.

On 3 May it emerged that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) would not be bringing criminal charges as a result of the deaths of Colm Griffin and Eric Hopkins. The official inquest into their deaths has not been concluded. The families of the two men say they will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary. A man has been charged in connection with the attempted armed robbery of Lusk post office, but so far a trial date has not been set.p