This case is so serious it is appropriate to put details on the record
The Frank Shortt case as reported on RTEs Drivetime (1st item) 21st March 2007
Donegal accountant Frank Shortt tried convicted and jailed on the perjured evidence of two Gardai. The now 72 old was awarded damages of €4.6 million
The Chief Justice said Frank Shortt had been the victim of the disreputable conduct and the shocking abuse of power by two Gardai, Superintendent Kevin Lenihan and Detective Garda Noel McMahon.
The following is how Justice Hardiman described the case.
This is the most serious, tragic and alarming case. It has been before the courts now in one form or another for nearly fourteen years. The plaintiff appellant Mr. Francis Shortt was framed by Gardai on drug offences in 1995 and given a three year sentence. His life was almost totally ruined and he was reduced to a state of despair.
At that nadir of his fortunes he found the strength to reject an offer of early release on the condition that he dropped his appeal and thereby acknowledged his guilt. The court has heard no explanation of how, why and on whose authority this offer came to be made to him.
He lost his first appeal. After a long struggle conducted by dedicated legal advisors the prosecution quite suddenly and without any substantive explanation consented to his conviction being quashed in November 2000, some years after his release. After another interval of years in July 2002 he succeeded after a long hearing in having the conviction declared a miscarriage of justice.
His application for this declaration was opposed with perjured evidence by Gardai. The court is now concerned with the question of compensation for the plaintiff; the victim of what the authorities conceded on this appeal was the worst known example of oppression of a citizen by the State.
On the State apology to Mr. Shortt
This apology was tendered some 14 years after the start of the chain of events which led to Mr. Shortt being wrongfully convicted of drug offences on the basis of consciously false Gardai evidence. Eleven years after he was sentenced, five and a half years after his conviction was quashed by the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and just under four years after the declaration by the court of criminal appeal that his conviction was a miscarriage of justice.
The apology was both belated and limited in the sense that no apology of any kind was offered until the surprise of the court at its absence was made clear the previous day. The apology is carefully drafted, does not refer to Mr. Shortt’s innocence and does not purport to be offered on behalf of An Garda Siochana. The plaintiff accepted it in words both dignified and pointed in the spirit in which it was offered.
Why substantial exemplary damages should be awarded.
I firmly believe that in the public interest a very substantial sum must be awarded under this heading in order to make an example of the wrongdoers here. The enormous power conferred on the Gardai, partly by law and partly by the often well deserved trust of the public make what happened in this case nothing less than an obscenity.
These Gardai were out of control. The whole affair graphically illustrates Mr. Justice Morris’ conclusion that the Gardai are losing their status as a disciplined force. What Gardai did to Mr. Shortt was so outrageous as almost to defy description but the Gardai force has yet to admit this.
The former Gardai Representative Association representative in Donegal told the Morris Inquiry, speaking of internal disciplinary procedures, ‘It is the nature of the Gardai, we don’t name the names, we don’t want to get anybody into trouble in the Garda Siochana internal matters. We try our best to make sure that we’re not going to be hanging our people.’
The outrageousness of what was done, the very long period required to discover it, the failure of An Garda Siochana itself expressly to acknowledge and apologise for the misdeeds of its members and the grave risk to society as a whole if Gardai behave as some of those involved in this case behaved render it absolutely necessary to make a substantial award of exemplary damages.
If there were no such award I firmly believe that the courts would be making themselves part of the problem rather than part of the solution. What happened to Mr. Shortt boggles the mind and almost defeats the imagination. A very significant award is necessary in order to make an example of the wrongdoers in a serious way in the public interest.
The corrupt policemen have never been charged