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Scannal - to Kill or not to Kill ?

© The Irish Times
© The Irish Times

RTÉ One, 28 November 2011 at 19.30pm

Padraig Nally and John "Frog" Ward became household names when in 2004 one man shot the other dead. The subsequent Garda Investigation and prosecution and the two trials that followed put the details of the case on the front pages and provoked a bitterly divided reaction amoung the public, not least when Nally, a bachelor farmer, was finally acquitted of the manslaughter of John Frog Ward a traveller, father of 11 with a string of previous criminal convictions.

This week Scannal recalls the case that divided the community whether rural or urban, traveller or settled.

Padraig Nally from Funshinagh, near the village of Cross, Co Mayo had become increasingly agitated and worried since his farmhouse had been broken into in 2003 and a chainsaw stolen in February 2004. He kept a old shotgun in an outbuilding and began to note down the registration numbers of strange cars travelling through the area. Convinced he would be targeted again by thieves, he spent hours sitting in his shed waiting for them. On 14 October 2004, John "Frog" Ward, a member of the travelling community, went to Nally's home. Ward was known to Gardaí with a string of previous convictions for offences including burglary, trespass and assaulting Gardaí. An altercation took place between the two men which resulted in the shooting dead of John Ward by Padraig Nally, it would be another five months before Padraig Nally was remanded for the killing.

In July 2005 The Central Criminal Court, sitting in Castlebar, heard the case, making it the first murder trial in Mayo for almost a century. Padraig Nally pleaded not guilty to the charge claiming that he had shot in self-defence. During the trial Padraig Nally, the only witness to the killing, gave very direct and stark evidence regarding the details of the killing. He had beaten John Ward up to 20 times with a stick after he shot him in the hip with his single-barrel shotgun. He then reloaded the gun and shot Mr. Ward a second time as he limped away on the public road; he then lifted up the dead body and threw it over a wall into a field. Nally was acquitted of murder, but convicted of manslaughter. The judge, Mr. Justice Paul Carney, directed the jury that they had the option of finding him guilty of murder or manslaughter. They did not have the option to consider acquittal on the basis of self-defence. Sentencing Nally to six years for the manslaughter conviction, Mr Justice Paul Carney said: "This is undoubtedly the most socially divisive case I have had to try. It is also the most difficult one in which I have had to impose sentence". There was uproar when Nally was originally convicted and local politicians and members of the GAA and IFA called for a change to the law which would legitimise what Nally did. He served 11 months before the case was taken to the Court of Criminal Appeal and a retrial was ordered. The appeal court ruled that the jury at Mr. Nally's original trial in Castlebar, should have been allowed to consider the full defence of self defence. Padraig Nally's retrial took place in December 2006 in Dublin . The jury acquitted Nally of manslaughter and he walked from the court a free man.

The acquittal of Mayo farmer Padraig Nally for the manslaughter of John "Frog" Ward provoked bitterly divided reaction. The justification used for Nally's actions provoked major debate. Supporters of Mr.Nally and some local politicians welcomed the jury's finding that the 62-year-old farmer was not guilty of manslaughter, but Traveller support groups and Mr.Ward's family expressed dismay at the verdict. Calls for a change in the law to shift the balance in favour of people facing down an intruder in their home or on their property were framed to a significant degree by the Padraig Nally case. Following the publication of a report by the Law Reform Commission examining the issues a home defence bill was introduced by former Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern in July 2010. The Bill would have permitted the use of force, including lethal force by the occupier to defend themselves and their property. The Bill was never enacted, falling with the 30th Dáil but there is speculation that it may be revived by the current administration.

Presenter/Reporter: Padraig O'Driscoll
Producer/Director: Kevin Cummins

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