Never-ending nightmare of Brian Murphy murder

  • 25 February 2005
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The tragic killing of Brian Murphy outside the Burlington Hotel in Dublin in 2000 is recalled by Fergal Keane and he explains just how the court verdicts were reached this week


For the Murphy family it must have been the nightmare end to a four-and-a-half-year living hell. Their 19-year-old boy had been killed in front of dozens of people and no one was responsible.

As Mr Justice Brian McCracken announced the verdict at 10.30 last Thursday morning, Brian's sister just slumped forward in her seat and held her head in her hands. Without waiting to hear the full three minutes it took to transact the business of the Court of Criminal Appeal, Denis and Mary Murphy stood up, gathered their children and left the room. The criminal justice system had failed them and put the final nail in their son's coffin.

This was more or less the last act in a legal process which began running the night Brian Murphy was beaten to death by a mob outside the Burlington Hotel on 31 August 2000, and his name wasn't even mentioned. As Mary Murphy said on the witness stand at the end of the trial a year ago, her son had been lost in the legal process.

Then she had asked:

"Where is my baby in all of this? I can't find him. He's lost, I'm lost. Where is my pride and joy, my full of confidence child, my crazy, exuberant, full of cheer, larger than life child, my naïve, far from perfect child, who did some silly things and some fabulous things?"

He certainly is not there in the 50 pages of legal judgment delivered by the three judges.

On the night he died, Brian Murphy took the bus with his friend, Matthew Moran, to Annabel's nightclub. They both had summer jobs working in the store room of Brown Thomas that year and were hoping to get in on the guest list. Brian was apprehensive, he was expecting to get into trouble with some guys from Terenure College, he had had a run in with a couple of weeks before. But nothing happened in the club and the trouble only started when hundreds of teenagers and those in their early twenties spilled onto the street in the early hours.

Andrew Frame was one of them. On the street a group, which included among its number Brian Murphy, jeered him because he said "they were annoyed because I was with a girl called Brooke McVeigh, or something like that, while I was on holiday in Spain," that summer. Brooke McVeigh is a UCD student who was also friendly with some of the Murphy group. When Andrew Frame approached the group, Brian Murphy pushed him. Sean Mackey had been in school with Frame and approached to see what the commotion was. Brian Murphy punched him and a melee started. Andrew Frame was not involved and was acquitted on all charges brought against him.

For many of those involved, the night marked the end of an indolent summer. Unlike Brian Murphy, three of those originally accused of his manslaughter, didn't need to get jobs over the summer. On the night in question they had been drinking in one anothers' homes and in the homes of friends before going on to the club. Many of those who gave evidence said they had been drinking very heavily.

The Court of Criminal Appeal said that the evidence of the 50 or so people who saw what happened was confusing and contradictory. But what is uncontested, is that Brian Murphy was surrounded by a group of up to six or seven who punched him many times and then kicked him repeatedly when he fell to the ground.

Who exactly was in that group has never clearly been identified, but according to gardaí, several of those from whom they took statements were not telling all of what they knew. Gardaí said the investigation was frustrated by people covering up for others and they now admit that while they know there are at least two other people involved walking around free, they will never be charged.

But there was still ample evidence that Dermot Laide had struck Brian Murphy at least a number of times. A friend of his, David Cox, said he saw him punch Brian Murphy twice. Laide told him afterwards that he couldn't believe what he had done, and that he looked shocked.

While there was a general air of bewilderment in the Four Courts following the verdict, the quashing of the manslaughter conviction against Dermot Laide came as no surprise to anyone who had sat through the appeal. His council, Michael O'Higgins, had put as clear a case for the overturning of the verdict as the highest court of criminal appeal in the country is ever likely to have heard. Very few people who listened to him make his presentation that day last month can have had little doubt that there was at least a likelihood that his client would win his appeal.

The grounds of appeal were a legal technicality, but for all of that, they were compelling. It is a rule of law that a statement to the gardaí by one of a number of people accused of a crime, blaming the others for what happened, is not admissible as evidence unless he takes the stand to back it up under oath.

In his statement to the gardaí, Sean Mackey blamed Dermot Laide for much of the violence directed against Brian Murphy, while admitting that he also struck blows himself.

"I punched him with my closed fist in the head area knocking him backwards. I didn't see him fall to the ground from that blow because at this stage Dermot Laide had joined in the fight. I remember Dermot Laide throwing punches at him hitting Murphy on the head. He hit Murphy a number of times in the head while Murphy was falling back towards the ground. I would say that I saw Dermot Laide hit Brian Murphy about the head with four or five punches. They were hard punches, he is a big dude and he was giving it his all … Brian Murphy fell to the ground after the blows from Dermot Laide. It looked to me that Dermot Laide was holding Brian Murphy with his left hand and punching him with his right hand, before Brian Murphy collapsed to the ground. Dermot Laide punched Brian Murphy a number of times while Brian Murphy was collapsing and falling back onto the ground and while Brian Murphy was on the ground. Dermot Laide then kicked Murphy while he was on the ground. I am not sure exactly where he kicked him."

During the trial, after legal argument between the lawyers for Mackey and Laide, and the prosecution, it was decided that Dermot Laide's name be edited from this statement and that he be referred to only as Mr A. This edited version was then read to the jury.

Then came the turning point of the trail. Council for both Sean Mackey and Desmond Ryan stood up and announced that their client was not Mr A. That left Dermot Laide isolated, clearly identified as one of the people who kicked Brian Murphy on the ground – something the prosecution was not trying to prove he did as only Sean Mackey was claiming this.

The Court of Criminal Appeal agreed with the lawyers and said that there was a real possibility that the jury had convicted only Laide of manslaughter because they believed he was the one who kicked Brian Murphy while he was on the ground. Any conviction on those grounds was unsafe and should be overturned.

While Dermot Laide's case seemed pretty cut and dried to most people during the appeal, the case of Desmond Ryan was more complex. His lawyers claimed that the search warrant which led to the search of his home in September 2000 had not been sworn out properly and any subsequent arrest was unlawful. The appeal court agreed, and spent 31 pages of its judgment giving the reasons for their thinking. In the end they concluded that any statements he made after his arrest were not admissible as evidence. Since his own admission that he threw one punch at Brian Murphy was the main case against him, it followed that it was ruled out, then no retrial was possible because of a lack of evidence. Desmond Ryan walked from court a free man. Despite his initial conviction he never spent a night in prison.

By all accounts, the relationship between Sean Mackey and Dermot Laide in Castlerea Prison is a frosty one and despite being incarcerated together they never speak. They are surely blaming each other for what happened.

Dermot Laide is now due for a retrial, but there is a strong body of opinion in the Law Library to the effect that it will prove to be impossible to try him again. Both he and Mackey could be free men by Brian Murphy's anniversary, on 31 August.

At Brian's funeral the priests from Gonzaga and Blackrock colleges summed up what most people felt about the case at the time.

"It is every parent's nightmare that something like this could happen to their child. It is every parent's nightmare that their child could be responsible for something like this."

They could add to that this week: It is a tragedy and a shame on everyone involved that it has ended as it has.