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Saturday 3 December 2016

Killers of brave garda sergeant both given 40-year prison terms

Garda killer Noel Callan (Photo: Courtpix)
Garda killer Noel Callan (Photo: Courtpix)

This month's freeing of two men jailed for murdering a garda coincided with the 30th anniversary of their being sentenced to death.

The pair, Michael Martin McHugh, from Armagh, and Co Monaghan man Noel Callan, were convicted of killing 49-year-old Sergeant Patrick Morrissey after an armed robbery at the labour exchange in Ardee, Co Louth, in 1985.

The raiders stole almost IR£25,300 from the labour exchange before getting away in the manager's car and later switching to a motorbike.

The sergeant, in the area for a district court sitting, joined in chasing the armed and masked men. He was initially shot in the leg and wounded before he was shot in the face from close range.

Reckless

At the time, the murder of a member of the gardai was listed as a capital offence in Ireland.

In line with other similar cases during that period, the two men later had their sentences commuted to terms of 40 years' imprisonment by President Patrick Hillery.

The crime, which created shockwaves on both sides of the Border, is recalled in just-released Government papers.

A memorandum drafted for his cabinet colleagues by then Justice Minister Michael Noonan described McHugh, aged 23 at the time of the incident and the instigator of the robbery, as being "regarded as highly intelligent" and "reckless in the extreme when committing crime".

The minister also reported the details of the killing, confirming for the Government that Sergeant Morrissey had first been hit in the leg.

He added: "As the sergeant lay on the ground, one of the gunmen shouted at him to get up.

"He was unable to do so, and as he tried to prop himself up, McHugh shot him in the face."

The killers were arrested nearby after a search involving the gardai, the Army and the Air Corps.

Noel Callan, 22 when jailed, later appealed but McHugh refused to do so.

Mr Noonan told the Cabinet: "From his defiant attitude towards the court after being sentenced, when he gave a clenched fist salute, the indications are that he is unlikely to do so."

The 40-year jail terms included the stipulation that the sentences should be served without the normal remission.

But that condition was contested by Noel Callan earlier this year, when he claimed his entitlement to a 25pc remission.

The State contested the claim, but Callan's case was later upheld by the Supreme Court in what was regarded as a landmark judicial decision.

The freeing of the two men 10 years early outraged members of the Morrissey family.

The garda's brothers, George and Marty, declared the men had "never shown any remorse".

"These men were already shown mercy by having their death sentences commuted," the brothers said.

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