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Tuesday 6 December 2016

TDs offer support for violent inmate brought to court by 'riot squad'

Leon Wright was supported by Mick Wallace (pictured) and Clare Daly as he fought a charge of assault on a prison officer Photo: Tom Burke
Leon Wright was supported by Mick Wallace (pictured) and Clare Daly as he fought a charge of assault on a prison officer Photo: Tom Burke

Independent TDs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly turned up in Dublin District Court to support a violent criminal who was cleared of assaulting a prison officer.

Leon Wright (28), of Donore Avenue, Dublin 8, who has 84 previous convictions, remained handcuffed and flanked by five prison staff wearing riot gear.

Speaking after the hearing, the TDs said it was a turning point for Wright and "maybe for how things are done in prison".

They said they believed Wright's human rights had been breached and called for an investigation into his treatment.

Stabbed

Wright pleaded not guilty to a charge of assaulting prison officer Michael Kerr at Wheatfield Prison in Dublin on October 7, 2013.

Mr Kerr said Wright produced an object from his back passage and stabbed him in the face, cutting his lip.

Wright claimed he was beaten by prison officers.

After the defence raised questions over the credibility of prosecution witnesses and evidence, Judge Alan Mitchell said that, having viewed the CCTV evidence in particular, he was dismissing the case.

He also said he would direct that the Courts Service make a copy of the audio recording of the hearing and offer it to Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly in the event that he would like to "take further action".

"I certainly have concerns in relation to this matter," Judge Mitchell added.

After Wright was cleared of the charge, he gave two thumbs up to the TDs, who had spoken to him before the trial.

In 2014, Wright, whose previous convictions include 30 assaults, four garda assaults, robberies and firearms offences, received a six-year sentence with the final two suspended for two random stabbing attacks.

In relation to yesterday's trial in Dublin District Court, Mr Kerr and two other prison officers said Wright became aggressive when told he was about to be searched. They denied that the defendant was beaten by several officers.

Lacerations

A nurse gave evidence that he saw lacerations inside and on the prison officer's lip and he said that from his experience it would have been caused by being cut with a sharp object.

Prosecution witnesses also said Wright lashed out. Prison officer Brian Hayes said he saw officer Kerr being struck with an object but he did not mention it in his statement to the investigating garda.

Defence counsel Emmet Nolan put it to prosecution witnesses that Wright was stripped and "given a hiding", which was denied.

He asked the judge to note that CCTV footage showed four prison officers in riot gear outside the cell while four others dealt with Wright inside.

He argued that it was not believable that they would remain outside the cell while their colleagues were being attacked.

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