| 10.5°C Dublin

Feral children forced to grow up fast

THE night of Aidan O'Kane's death signalled the end of innocence for the youths who witnessed the killing, all of whom were under 18 at the time.

With little in the way of entertainment for young teens in East Wall, many of them had developed a habit of hanging around the streets late in the evenings.

On the night of December 7, 2008, there were between 10 and 15 teenagers gathered at Shelmalier Road, near Mr O'Kane's home.

It was around 6.30pm and nightfall had descended. Yet despite the darkness and the late hour, several children between the ages of 11 and 16 were roaming the streets.

What happened in the space of a few frantic minutes would force them all to grow up well before their time. The events were recalled in the Central Criminal Court, where 18-year-old Conor Duffy stood trial.

Most of those who witnessed the events are still too young to be identified and so they gave evidence to the court via video link. One teenager was later interviewed by gardai and told them he had seen Duffy with a gun in his hand which he had pointed at Mr O'Kane before shooting him.



baton

Detective Sergeant Walter O'Connell said the witness claimed to have seen Mr O'Kane with a knife in his hand before he fell to the ground.

Yet when it came to delivering his evidence via video link to the courtroom, the youngster had little to say, explaining: "I don't really remember any of it". One child was just 11 years old. Despite his young age, he was among the youths who had befriended the mechanic. In a measure of their familiarity, he referred to him as "Aido".

A core group of three youngsters, which included Duffy, had thrown eggs at Mr O'Kane's house. Enraged, Mr O'Kane put on a jacket and balaclava and ran outside to confront them. In his jacket he had concealed a retractable baton.

The 11-year-old child recalled seeing Duffy and Mr O'Kane move towards a laneway, but when he heard a loud bang he immediately assumed that it was Duffy who had been shot.

Another young observer gave evidence of seeing Mr O'Kane emerging from his house and confronting some of the boys with his hands behind his back. The witness recalled hearing someone screaming in a panic: "He has a gun."

Watching the melee, the teenager described seeing Mr O'Kane challenging one of the gang, telling him: "Come on, be a hard man. I'll have you."

The grim events had also been witnessed by a 15-year-old, who had observed Mr O'Kane walking backwards down the street after initially running at the youths.

He had seen Duffy cycling his bike, zig-zagging slowly in front of the older man.

As the teenager recalled, Mr O'Kane appeared frustrated. He then remembered hearing someone screaming at Duffy to run. He claimed to have seen Duffy jumping off his bike and throwing it in front of Mr O'Kane before running into a laneway.

afinneran@herald.ie