By Alison O’Riordan
THE trial of a teenage boy accused of producing a knife during a dispute at a house party where 20-year-old college student Cameron Blair was murdered, collapsed in Dublin on Wednesday.
In a dramatic turn of events at the Croke Park sitting of the Central Criminal Court, the court was told that the DPP had said he would not be continuing with the charge against the boy, who cannot be named because he is a minor.
The now 16-year-old accused had been charged with the production of a knife at a house on Bandon Rd in Cork city on January 16th, 2020. The trial ran for almost three weeks before the case collapsed.
The accused, who was 14 at the time of the incident, had pleaded not guilty to the charge of producing the knife.
Before the State opened its case on May 28, the boy pleaded guilty to committing violent disorder with two other persons present together, using or threatening to use unlawful violence, and such conduct taken together would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at Bandon Rd in Cork city to fear for his or another person’s safety at the said place on the same occasion.
The jury was told that the events of the case related to ‘a tragic situation’ where Cameron, a chemical engineering student at CIT, died after being stabbed in the neck. Another juvenile has already pleaded guilty to his murder.
Addressing the jury of eight men and four women, Mr Justice David Keane explained that he had been informed by prosecution counsel John Fitzgerald SC, on behalf of the DPP, that the prosecution had been discontinued.
Members of the Blair family were present in court on Wednesday.
Last Thursday, Mr Fitzgerald told Mr Justice Keane in the absence of the jury that there had been an issue in relation to two of the witnesses in the book of evidence. ‘The information is that they went to Ayia Napa in Cyprus and it is the State’s belief that they did so in order to avoid giving evidence,’ he said.
Mr Fitzgerald said that efforts were ‘going on in the background’ to secure the two witnesses’ voluntary return from Cyprus and gardaí were liaising with their family members and airlines. He said it was his belief that the two witnesses would return on June 26th. The lawyer asked the court to adjourn the matter until the following day and asked the judge not to canvass the matter in any detail with the jury.
On Wednesday the judge asked Mr Fitzgerald what the situation was in regards to the two witnesses. Counsel said that ‘enquiries were ongoing’ and he explained that gardaí had informed him that one of the witnesses had booked a flight to return from Ayia Napa on Friday evening. The information was ‘less clear’ in relation to the other witness, he added.
Mr Fitzgerald said that ‘further intervention of the court may be required but that required certain paperwork to be gone through on my side’.
Mr Justice Keane said it was his task to ensure the administration of justice and he had to do his utmost to make sure that this was the case. ‘If events occur that interfere with the administration of justice I have to be concerned. Because I issued warrants which weren’t obeyed, I will be guided in due course.’
He continued: ‘I think the failure to attend in accordance with a witness order is a contempt of court.’
Mr Fitzgerald said he did not have any instructions in relation to this but could say that the matter was ‘under active consideration’.
Counsel for the teenager, Timothy O’Leary SC with Alan O’Dwyer BL, said that he would have required the two witnesses in relation to his defence.
In reply, the judge said it seemed to be a ‘profoundly serious matter’ to fail to comply with a witness order and it has to be treated as a matter of ‘significant gravity’.
It was the defence’s contention that two boys out of a group of three who had gathered outside the house were in possession of a knife on the night, but not the defendant in this case. One of the boys has admitted murdering Ballinascarthy native Cameron and another has pleaded guilty to violent disorder and to the production of a knife. However, it was the State’s case that each of the three boys had a knife on the night.
In April 2020, a teenage boy, then aged 17, who murdered Cameron by plunging a knife into his neck outside the house party received a life sentence that will be reviewed in 2032. The boy, who could not be named because he was a minor, pleaded guilty to murdering Cameron.
On January 11th of this year, a 19-year-old teenager, who also cannot be named at this point for legal reasons, pleaded guilty to violent disorder and to production of a knife in a manner likely to intimidate another on January 16th, 2020. The case was adjourned for sentence until after this week’s trial.