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'DUTCHY' HOLLAND AND THE PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE
PATRICK EUGENE 'Dutchy' Holland has never been charged with killing Veronica Guerin - but he seems to be serving time for her murder.
Eamonn McCann, 10 Dec 1997
PATRICK EUGENE "Dutchy" Holland has never been charged with killing Veronica Guerin - but he seems to be serving time for her murder.
The implication of this for the rights of citizens before the law was scarcely mentioned in reports of the outcome of Holland's Special Criminal Court trial, which ended on November 28th. On the basis of a remark made by a Garda in court, it was implicitly assumed that Holland had murdered Ms. Guerin.
A number of commentators expressed satisfaction that he had been appropriately sentenced for the killing.
The only offence Holland was convicted of was possession of cannabis for sale or supply. No report or commentary that I saw or read in the days after the trial argued that 20 years was a reasonable sentence for this crime, or in line with precedent.
With remarkable unanimity, newspapers and radio and television news programmes identified Holland with the phrase: "The man gardai believe killed Veronica Guerin". Mention his name, Patrick Eugene Holland, in a word-association test now, and the answer would come, more or less automatically, " . . . killed Veronica Guerin".
There would be no possibility now of Holland receiving a fair trial for the murder of Ms. Guerin. But then, this proposition will hardly arise. Untried, he's already doing time for it.
Many will have imagined the Irish public alert to the dangers of jailing people for crimes which the police believe they committed but haven't the evidence on which to build a prosecution. But in Holland's case, it seems that few care. To object to the conduct and coverage of his case is to risk being portrayed as insufficiently horrified at the murder of Ms. Guerin.
Thus, the killing of Veronica Guerin is being used to stifle debate about the abuse of power by the authorities and the denial of rights to citizens. The complicity of a number of journalists and the media outlets they work for in this process is, or should be, a cause for concern.
Journalists sometimes like to claim a role for themselves in holding major institutions, including State institutions, accountable, and vindicating the rights of citizens in the face of implacable authority. Students on journalism courses, I'm told, still dream of the story which exposes wrong-doing in high places and remedies injustice visited upon ordinary citizens. But an alternative and more cynical view of journalism's function is now fashionable, too.
Back in the 1970s, the media played a major part in exposing the "Heavy Gang", a group of gardai who interviewed suspects with boots, fists, threats and lying blandishments, and conspired to perjure themselves to pervert the course of justice. Meanwhile, other gardai were abusing powers of detention, and falsifying fingerprint evidence.
It should be acknowledged that some gardai, too, including recent presidential candidate Derek Nally, alerted public representatives to these abuses and helped to bring them to an end.
In the case of the falsifying of fingerprint evidence, indeed, it was whistle-blowers within the gardai who contacted the media with their concerns and prevented the elaborate frame-up of an innocent person for a very serious crime.
The events came back to mind some months ago when a well-known journalist appealed on the RTE television discussion programme Davis for the reformation of the "Heavy Gang" as a means of combating an alleged "crime wave".
Reminded by Derek Davis that the methods of this unit had been found unacceptable, the journalist responded in the scornful manner of zealots for law'n'order everywhere: ask the victims of crime whether they were concerned about police methods.
Interviewed by an embarrassingly obsequious Eamon Dunphy on Radio Ireland on the day Patrick Eugene Holland was sentenced, the same journalist sang a song of praise for the Special Criminal Court. Certain people, he explained, had suggested that the SCC was no longer necessary, now that the IRA had declared a ceasefire. (The no-jury court was set up in the early '70s ostensibly to deal with a specific threat to the State from Republican paramilitarism.)
The Holland trial proved, he maintained, that the SCC was still needed. Had Holland been able to claim the right to trial by jury, there might not have been such a satisfactory result. A jury, he warned, might well have been "nobbled". Special measures and special courts were still needed. (His spake was well-studded with references to Ms. Guerin.)
The journalist's name doesn't matter, because this isn't personal. What matters is that he's highly regarded in media circles precisely because he doesn't speak just for himself but represents a strong current of opinion in the trade. Campaigning for the return of "Heavy Gang" methods and justifying the continued denial of the right to trial by jury, even when the original reason for the denial admittedly no longer obtains, isn't considered outside the journalistic mainstream.
Likewise, it isn't just this individual who regularly invokes the murder of Veronica Guerin to justify the view that journalism has an overriding duty to support law and order and to the forces of law and order.
This is a view which, naturally, finds favour with senior gardai. Thus, common cause is established between journalists and elements in the State apparatus. The notion that it is the function of journalism to challenge and hold State authorities accountable begins to fray and unravel. Some come to accept it as part of a journalist's function actively to assist gardai, by, for example, acting as unquestioning conduits for information which gardai want put into the public domain.
More than once in recent times, journalists favoured by gardai have been given and have published, presumable in good faith, items of accurate information interspersed with falsehoods, the combination having been designed to discommode and confuse the gardai's adversaries. A number of well-promoted crime exclusives have been of this character.
The relationship which can develop between some gardai and some journalists in this situation has been illustrated in incidents in which senior gardai have suggested to witnesses in imminent cases of serious crime that they talk to one of a small number of named journalists and not talk to other named journalists.
This is too close a relationship for journalistic comfort. It is, at its heart, a political relationship. The idea that there is a "crime-crisis" which can be dealt with only by tough new measures and new police powers and no old namby-pamby guff about civil liberties, is a political idea advanced everywhere by right-wing elements who love good order and hate unruly freedom.
It is an idea which sits very comfortably alongside the contention that crime is not caused primarily by poverty and alienation but by an absence of discipline and a refusal to accept authority. The answer, then, lies not in making society more equal but in making people more compliant.
It is possible that Patrick Eugene "Dutchy" Holland pulled the trigger and killed Veronica Guerin. I cannot say that he didn't. But neither am I entitled to say that he did. He has never been charged with having done so. If the principle that a citizen is innocent until proven guilty has meaning, it means that Mr. Holland is innocent of Ms. Guerin's death.
We don't yet have a society in which people can be convicted of murder merely on the word of a policeman, much as some people in journalism, as well as in the security establishments, might wish it were so. n