Morris Tribunal rejects call for PSNI officers to give evidence for White

Village magazine

A detective sergeant sought unsuccessfully to call PSNI officers to testify to his truthfulness.Photo of the Morris Tribunal

The Morris Tribunal has refused to allow three senior members of the PSNI to be called to give character evidence about allegations a suspended detective sergeant made concerning terrorist attacks in the North.

Lawyers for suspended Detective Sergeant John White applied to have the officers called as character witnesses to demonstrate the credibility of their client. In a letter to the Tribunal, on which privilege has been claimed by the Garda Commissioner, solicitor Paudge Dorrian asked that the witnesses should be called to demonstrate that his client was truthful.

Since December the Morris Tribunal has examined allegations that in May 1998 Detective Sergeant White planted a shotgun on a north Donegal Traveller site at Burnfoot, near the border with Derry, before a Garda search of the area.

Seven people were arrested as a result of the search and held under Section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act.

Sergeant White denies the allegations.

The application to call the PSNI witnesses was made on Wednesday 1 March, and legal arguments were heard in private at the Tribunal on Friday 3 March by lawyers for the Garda Commissioner and Detective Sergeant White.

“The fact that he may have told the truth on a collateral, at best, matter, may show his truthfulness as to the Burnfoot matter,” Justice Frederick Morris wrote in a judgement posted on the Tribunal website.

“That is not logical and under no extension of the rules of evidence is it admissible to allow evidence as to the truth of a witness as to a matter unrelated to the issues in a case.”

“The letter concerns two grievous crimes that were committed North of the border. It may be, I do not know, that Detective Sergeant White has had some dealing whereby he may know something about the background to such crimes.”

“They are serious terrorist bombings North of the border.”

Mr Justice Morris decided the Burnfoot module would take place in closed session after the DPP submitted that an open hearing of the evidence might prejudice a potential jury in the criminal trial of Detective Sergeant White.

Last year White lost an appeal to the Supreme Court to delay the module until after his criminal trial. The court rejected his argument that the module would allow the prosecution witnesses a “dry run” of their evidence. Last week in the High Court, Justice de Valera rejected an application by the sergeant to have the charges dropped because evidence in the case was missing. Justice de Valera said the trial judge could also consider the issue.

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