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Wednesday 20 June 2018

Man jailed for killing boy (12) in den blaze battles to overturn conviction

Blaze victim Stephen Hughes
Blaze victim Stephen Hughes

A man found guilty of setting a children's den on fire and killing a boy has appealed against his conviction for manslaughter.

Victim Stephen Hughes was 12 when he died as the hut burnt down while he slept there overnight 16 years ago.

In May 2014, after a 13-day trial, Dermot Griffin (57) was found guilty by a jury of six men and six women at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

Judge Patricia Ryan jailed Griffin, of Ballyfermot Road, Ballyfermot, for 15 years over the fatality at Rossfield Avenue, Tallaght, on September 1, 2001.

Heroin

Yesterday, counsel for Griffin, Bernard Condon, told the Court of Appeal the prosecution case was a "three-legged affair".

At the trial the main evidence against Griffin came from three witnesses who placed him at the scene.

Cross-examined, they admitted they were abusing heroin at the time and had given statements to gardai that conflicted with their evidence to the jury.

Mr Condon emphasised that the three had given "varying, different accounts" of the night in question.

In 2001, he said, the witnesses made statements saying they had "seen or heard nothing", but in 2006 and 2012 they changed their tune. "The prosecution were saying forget about the quality, look at the quantity," Mr Condon said.

Mr Condon argued that, at the end of the trial, the judge should have directed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty.

It was an "emotive case", the barrister said, adding, "A young child was killed in awful circumstances".

Partner

He said that there were "extraordinary inconsistencies" in the evidence.

Mr Condon noted that Griffin's partner at the time, Tracey Deegan, testified that the accused was "talking all day about burning down the place" but in her interviews with gardai she never mentioned this.

"There's almost no point you'll find any of the three witnesses lined up to say the same thing, other than one thing, that it was Dermot Griffin," Mr Condon said.

The court also heard that, after the conviction, another man claimed to gardai to be the culprit.

However, he later said he had been released from the Central Mental Hospital and that his first statement was not true.

Mr Condon said that, although the man retracted his claim, it was "relevant".

"There is now a person who said they did it," Mr Condon said. The man could be called to give evidence at any future trial.

Mary Rose Gearty, for the prosecution, argued there were "very significant other legs to this case".

She mentioned the evidence of Jason Lambe, who testified that he was alerted to the fire by Griffin and Ms Deegan, and that they told him there was a child in the hut.

This conflicted with Griffin's claim that he was home all night.

"It was a much stronger case than Mr Condon suggested," she said.

Mr Justice George Birmingham, sitting with two others, reserved judgement in the case.

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