Sergeant in passport scam was “afraid” of colleague

Smithwick tribunal

A former garda sergeant who later pleaded guilty to his part in supplying fake passports made a dramatic confrontation with a colleague he alleged had put him up to the crime hile under arrest, but later refused to give evidence in court because he was “afraid” as his colleague had “political connections”, the Smithwick tribunal heard.

Former sergeant Finbarr Hickey told detectives that he had signed applications for several passports, three of which ended up in IRA hands, because another garda, sergeant Leo Colton, “gave me these forms to sign and had put me in this mess.”

Mr Colton denies the allegation, and was never charged with any offence.

Assistant commissioner John O’Mahony, who was a detective inspector at the time, was present when Mr Hickey agreed to confront Mr Colton during his arrest.

He said that Mr Hickey could not look at Mr Colton in the eye during the confrontation, and “thought the confrontation was very meek”.

“I would have hoped the confrontation would have been stronger,” Mr O’Mahony said.

And he said Mr Colton was “quite strong, quite robust in his defence of what he was saying. He denied vehemently Mr Hickey’s allegations.”

During the confrontation, Mr Hickey was brought into the interview room where Mr Colton was held, and said “Leo, I’m in deep shit, deep deep shit, tell the truth about the passport applications.”

Mr Colton replied “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Mr Hickey also said “I didn’t know they were for the Provos”, according to the Garda interview notes.

Mr Hickey later pleaded guilty in the Special Criminal Court.

A memo of an interview by Mr O’Mahony following a visit to Mr Hickey while he served his sentence in the Curragh said that Hickey would not give evidence in a trial against Mr Colton because he was “afraid of Colton”.

Mr Hickey said this was because Mr Colton had “political connections”, the assistant commissioner said.

Earlier, garda commissioner Martin Callinan, who was present when Hickey was arrested, said that during the drive to the garda station after his arrest, Hickey said to him “Would it make any difference if I told you it was Leo Colton who asked me to sign the form?” or words to that effect.

Mr Callinan, who was a superintendent with the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation at the time, was second in command in the inquiry.

The tribunal heard legal arguments before Mr Callinane gave his evidence, as lawyers for Mr Colton argued that his client had been “cleared by the DPP”, and airing the allegations in public would do “huge amounts of reputational damage”.

The lawyers wanted evidence from the commissioner to be heard with the public and press excluded.

Tribunal chairman Peter Smithwick refused the application.

The tribunal was set up to examine claims that a leak from within the Gardai led to the IRA ambush in which RUC chief superintendent Harry Breen and superintendent Bob Buchanan were murdered in 1989.

Both Mr Hickey and Mr Colton, as well as another former sergeant, Mr Owen Corrigan, deny they had anything to do with the deaths of the two RUC officers