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The Joe O’Reilly Conviction

Years and years ago, I was lucky enough to be burgled. I say lucky because I learned a great lesson about the nature of democracy as a result.

It was when I lived in Dublin. Somebody broke into the house in the middle of the night and stole one or two items and some money. The police came. They found the fingerprints of a known thief on the window. They arrested the thief, who swore he was never in that part of town in his life.

They charged him with the burglary, the case went to court before a jury and I was called as a witness. I can’t remember the name of the old judge, but I do remember him reading through the book of evidence, looking more and more troubled and finally sending the jury out of the room. Then he looked around the court before fixing the police with an unblinking basilisk stare.

According to this book of evidence, the defendant says he was never there in his life, yet his fingerprints were found on the outside of the window. This proves one of three things: either he has a bad memory, he’s a liar or the police are liars. It does not prove he was inside that house.

It gives rise to gross suspicion, but the day we start putting people in jail on the grounds of gross suspicion is the day we have a police state!

And, do you know something? He was right. I wanted to clap and cheer this old judge. Even though I was the victim of this thief’s crime, the police didn’t prove he was guilty. I’d have happily broken his legs, given half a chance, but he couldn’t go to jail, because there was a democracy to be protected. As simple as that.

It’s the same with the Joe O’Reilly case. I think he did it, but I don’t think the prosecution proved it. I think they piled up a load of facts and let the weight of evidence convince the jury.

That is not proof. That’s grounds for gross suspicion.

What does it mean when we start jailing people on the basis of gross suspicion? Ask the old judge.

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