Tipperary fireman ‘not guilty’ of possessing €80k cocaine

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A Tipperary fireman has been found not guilty of possession of cocaine worth almost €80,000, that was allegedly found in his locker at Nenagh Fire Station, six years ago.

Michael Morgan, (43), with an address at Cluain Muillean, Nenagh, was acquitted by a jury at Nenagh Circuit Criminal Court on Thursday, on all three charges brought against him by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Mr Morgan, who had denied all of the charges, was accused of one count of possession of cocaine, one count of possession of cocaine for sale and supply and one count of possession of cocaine worth €13,000 and over – a charge that carries a mandatory minimum ten-year jail sentence unless in exceptional and specific circumstances.

A co-accused, John Walsh, (36), of Coille Bheithe, Nenagh, who also denied the same three charges, was found guilty by the jury of seven men and five women, of possession of cocaine, as well as, possession of cocaine for sale or supply. Mr Walsh was acquitted of allegedly possessing cocaine worth €13,000 or more, contrary to section 15(a) of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The trial heard cocaine worth €78,000 was found wrapped in individual plastic bags in a lunchbox in Mr Morgan’s locker at Nenagh Fire Station during a routine inspection of staff lockers, on January 17, 2018.

When the drugs were found, Mr Morgan was not present in the fire station, his locker had been open, and a subsequent Garda examination of the drugs did not find any forensic link to him.

Mr Morgan told Gardai during interviews following his arrest that the lunchbox had been in his locker for between one and two years; that he did not own it; nor had he ever put anything into it.

Mr Morgan told gardai he did not know if he was being “set up” or if someone had mistakenly put the drugs into his locker: “If I was trying to hide anything, I would have locked it.”

Garda Andrew Loughlin, Nenagh Garda Station, during cross-examination by Mr Morgan’s barrister, Philip Sheahan SC, confirmed that in 2019, the DPP had directed that Mr Morgan should not face any charges, but that a later review of the garda investigation led to Mr Morgan and Mr Walsh being charged in 2020.

The two accused men were long time friends, they both held licensed firearms and they went hunting together.

Garda Loughlin said he believed a text message retrieved from a mobile phone belonging to John Walsh and sent to Mr Morgan’s mobile phone, which referred to “hunting gear”, was code for drugs, however the two accused men denied this.

Philip Sheahan SC put it to Gda Louglin that Mr Morgan told Gardai during a visit to Nenagh Garda Station in January 2020 that there were a number of people who had had access to lockers at the fire station around the time the drugs were found, and that Gardai had not interviewed these people.

Garda Loughlin said he did “not recall” this, and he said he had interviewed all of the names of witnesses that he had been aware of at the time.

Mr Walsh, who works as a plasterer and a dog breeder, during garda interviews, said he could not explain how a sample of his DNA was found on a knot on one of the plastic bags containing cocaine.

Mr Walsh said he could not remember ever being inside Nenagh Fire Station “unless I was brought there through school”.

The court heard that at least 30 people had access to the firefighters locker area and that it would have been relatively easy for contraband to be placed in the open lockers.

John Walsh was remanded on continuing bail to appear before Nenagh Circuit Court for sentencing on Thursday, February 9.

(With thanks to David Raleigh)