A High Court challenge has been taken over the gardaí’s alleged seizure and continued retention of a car belonging to convicted criminal Stephen Fowler.
Fowler, jailed earlier this year for his role in a failed attempt by the Kinahan organised crime organisation to murder a member of a rival gang James ‘Mago’ Gately, said he gave his full permission to a friend, Mr Gary Byrne to use his car while he serves his sentence in Portlaoise Prison.
The High Court heard that on October 31st last the car in question, a 2014 registered Brown Skoda Octavia, was detained and seized by the Gardai.
It is currently being retained by the Garda and had been listed to be crushed at a breaker’s yard. However, following the intervention of Fowler’s lawyers, the car remains intact.
The Court heard that Fowler gave his “good friend” Mr Byrne of Edenmore Crescent, Raheny, Dublin 5 full permission to use his car as he had no use for it while he was serving his sentence.
Represented by Micheal O’Higgins SC, Brendan Hennessy Bl said that the Garda have been made fully aware of the fact that Mr Byrne, who is fully insured to drive the vehicle, was given permission to use the car.
The insurance on the car is fully up to date, counsel added.
The Garda member who detained the car questioned the validity of the insurance, counsel said.
Counsel said that view was irrational and disproportionate.
In the circumstances the seizure and the continued retention of the car amounts to a clear abuse of authority, counsel added.
Letters have been sent to the gardaí from the applicant’s solicitor confirming that Mr Byrne has the owner’s permission to use the car, counsel said.
In breach of the car owner’s property rights the car has been retained and not returned to Mr Byrne, counsel added.
As a result, the two applicants have brought judicial review proceedings against the Garda Commissioner where they seek various orders including ones that the decision to refuse to return the vehicle be quashed and that the car be given to Mr Byrne.
They further seek a declaration that the seizure and continued detention of the car amounts to an abuse of process, is oppressive and amounts to a failure to vindicate the applicants’ property rights.
They further seek damages.
The matter came before Mr Justice Charles Meenan on Monday who granted the applicant s permission, on an ex-parte basis (where only side was represented in court), to bring the challenge.
The judge asked if there was a more cost effect way of resolving the dispute rather than the bringing of expensive High Court proceedings.
In reply, Mr O’Higgins said the applicants’ solicitor had written several letters to the Garda indicating that Mr Byrne has Fowler’s permission to use the car.
However, no meaningful response to that correspondence had been received, counsel added. The judge adjourned the case to a date in February.
Last October, Fowler, aged 62 years , from Blakestown Cottages, Clonsilla Dublin 15,was given a six year and nine-month prison sentence Special Criminal Court for his “logistical” involvement in the murder plot.
The last 15 months of the sentence was suspended for three years.
Fowler admitted to the single charge that he, having knowledge of a criminal organisation and “with the intention of enhancing the ability of the said criminal organisation or any of its members to commit a serious offence, namely the murder of James Gately, participated in or contributed to activities with the said offence”.
The offence relates to dates between December 7th, 2016, and April 4th, 2017, at a location or locations within the State, when Gately was in Belfast.
When passing sentence, the SCC noted that Fowler had lost his own son Eric, who was murdered due to his participating in criminal activity in 2018 and that Fowler had since distanced himself from criminal associates since his 2017 arrest.