A judge has warned a murder accused that he will be taken to the cells and banned from participating in his own trial, where he is representing himself, if he continues to “abuse” and “ballyrag” witnesses.
Mr Justice Alexander Owens said he would not allow his courtroom to become “a circus” after the defendant Stephen Penrose accused a Garda Inspector, who he was cross-examining, of lying under oath.
“He is telling bullshit about me,” Mr Penrose shouted in the courtroom, before demanding that the witness be “dismissed” from his trial as his “word” could not be accepted.
Inspector Aidan Hannon was giving evidence to the Central Criminal Court on Friday in the trial of 38-year-old Mr Penrose, who is charged with murdering a man whose decapitated body was buried in a shallow grave in a Kildare woods.
Mr Penrose, of Newtown Court, Malahide Road, Coolock, Dublin 17, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Philip Finnegan (24) at Rahin Woods, Rahin, Edenderry, Co Kildare on August 10th, 2016.
Legal team dismissed
The accused man has dismissed his legal team and is now representing himself in his murder trial at the Central Criminal Court.
On Friday morning, Insp Hannon told Brendan Grehan SC, prosecuting, that he had met the accused as a result of an accidental fire at a house in Clonuff in west Kildare in 2016. “Yes, I met him that day and met him several times after,” he said.
The witness agreed that he had also met the accused in Beaumont Hospital on the night of August 12th, when the accused wanted to speak to him.
Insp Hannon identified Mr Penrose in CCTV footage, in which Mr Finnegan was also identified, at Sweeney’s service station in Edenderry, Co Offaly just before 4pm on August 10th.
At the beginning of his cross-examination, Mr Penrose said he wanted to clarify something from the witness’s testimony on Thursday when Insp Hannon said he had seized two phones from him in hospital.
In reply, Insp Hannon said he spoke to Mr Penrose on August 12th and seized two phones from him the next day.
Mr Penrose put it to the witness that he had made it clear in his evidence that it was not a cautioned statement but a brief conversation. “Can you just clarify what is the truth and what is lies?” asked Mr Penrose.
Insp Hannon said he didn’t believe he had described any conversation as “brief” in his testimony but said he had briefly referred to seizing phones. “I haven’t given any evidence in relation to a cautioned interview,” said the witness.
Raising his voice in front of the jury, Mr Penrose shouted: “This means your statement is lies. You’re a sworn member of the gardai, you are after making a false statement. So what is the truth Mr Hannon, both cannot be the truth?”
The accused insisted it was not a cautioned statement saying: “He said it was taken down in writing, that’s two different things.”
When Mr Justice Owens interjected, Mr Penrose told the judge: “You can’t just brush me aside. This man is a liar and he is lying under oath.”
The judge warned Mr Penrose that barristers are not permitted to call witnesses liars under oath.
Waving a piece of paper in the air, the accused stood up and shouted to the jury that they could have the witness’ statement if they wanted. He proceeded to repeatedly accuse Insp Hannon of lying under oath and making false statements.
“He is telling bullshit about me,” shouted Mr Penrose.
Mr Justice Owens warned the accused that he would be taken to the cells unless he obeyed the ruling of the court and would not allow the courtroom to become “a circus”.
The judge said the accused had his opportunity to make his point “if there was a point” and the witness did not agree he was lying under oath.
Mr Penrose said the witness was “telling one thing under oath and another in a statement”. He shouted: “This is a murder trial and he is lying under oath and should be dismissed from this whole trial.”
Raising his voice, Mr Justice Owens called Mr Penrose’s behaviour a contempt of court saying: “It will be necessary to have you taken to the cells and you won’t be allowed to participate in your own trial as a result of your own foolishness”.
Mr Grehan told the judge that he had asked Insp Hannon on Thursday if he had seized phones and the witness confirmed he had. The witness still had a lot of evidence to give and he would be recalled later, he said.
Mr Penrose shouted aloud that the Inspector’s “word cannot be accepted” and again demanded that he be dismissed from the trial.
Addressing the accused, Mr Justice Owens called for order saying: “Would you listen to me please, sit down or you will be taken away. One more interruption and will be taken to the cells.”
“The purpose is to test the credibility of witnesses on issues where you disagree and it’s not to ballyrag a witness or shout at witnesses that they are perjuring themselves.
“So the jury are not treated to these harangues which you have given to this unfortunate witness. This witness is probably well able for you. I can’t have it that the witness is abused and ballyragged,” said Mr Justice Owens.
The trial continues on Tuesday morning before Mr Justice Owens and the 12 jurors. It is expected to last between five and six weeks.
Opening the trial of Mr Penrose, Mr Grehan said that Mr Finnegan’s decapitated body was found buried in a shallow grave in a Kildare woods. Counsel said Mr Finnegan had “certain troubles in the past” and had taken to wearing a protective vest.
The lawyer also told the jury in his opening address that attempts had been made to cut up and burn the body of Mr Finnegan, who had been missing for almost a month and who had met a “gruesome death”.
Significantly, the barrister said, the jury will hear evidence that a bloodied glove was found in the woods which was a DNA match to the accused man Mr Penrose.