Lee Canavan given life sentence over his role in the murder of David ‘Daithí’ Douglas
3rd June 2021
THE SPECIAL CRIMINAL Court has jailed Dublin man Lee Canavan for life for his role in the murder of David ‘Daithí’ Douglas, who was “executed” at a city centre shoe shop five years ago.© Shutterstock
In passing judgement last month, the three-judge court ruled that Canavan (32) was part of a joint enterprise or shared intention to murder Douglas in what was described as a “meticulously planned execution”.
However, the non-jury court did not agree with the State’s contention that Canavan was “the person who literally pulled the trigger”, owing to a lack of forensic or identification evidence.
Douglas (55) was shot six times in broad daylight as he took a meal break at the counter in his partner’s shop, Shoestown in Dublin’s Liberties. The semi-automatic pistol used in the murder had its serial number removed and was “brazenly” left at the scene next to the deceased’s head, the court heard.
Canavan, with an address at Edenbrook, Rathfarnham, Dublin 14, had pleaded not guilty to murdering Douglas, who died after sustaining injuries to his chest, neck, back, torso, elbow and jaw at Shoestown, Bridgefoot Street, Dublin 1, on July 1, 2016.
During the trial, an eyewitness described how the gunman “smirked” and walked away after firing shots into the shop where Douglas was working.
In passing sentence this morning (THURSDAY) at the Special Criminal Court, Justice Michael MacGrath said that the mandatory life imprisonment term would apply and that he had sympathy for the Douglas family, who declined to give a witness impact statement.
Detective Garda Denise Bambrick of Kevin Street Garda Station told the court that Canavan had been in custody since May 19, 2020 and had been fined €100 and €200 for possession of drugs in June 2016.
Justice MacGrath said that Canavan’s drug possession convictions were not an aggravating factor in that they were not significantly relevant to the charges before the court.
Canavan, a father of a three-year-old girl, was concurrently jailed for five years for the criminal damage to the getaway vehicle, a stolen Suzuki Swift, in Sandymount three days after the shooting.
The judge said that an aggravating factor in the criminal damage to the car was that it was used in as a getaway vehicle in the murder.
Both sentences were backdated to May 2020 when Canavan was taken into custody after a European Arrest Warrant was executed in the UK.
Defence counsel Michael Bowman SC said that Canavan left Rathfarnham and had worked as a printer in the UK after leaving school in fifth year. He said his client later returned to Ireland to study business IT and web design.
Justice MacGrath extended free legal aid to cover any appeal by the defence.
Canavan is the fourth man to be jailed in relation to the murder and his conviction was described by gardaí as “significant”.
In 2018, gangster Frederick ‘Fat Freddie’ Thompson (41) was jailed for life by the Special Criminal Court for the murder of Douglas. In 2019, Nathan Foley (22) of Maryland, Dublin 8, was jailed for six years after he pleaded guilty to assisting a criminal organisation by driving one of four cars and buying mobile phones used in the offence. Canavan’s half-brother Gareth Brophy (26) was jailed in February 2020 for ten years also by the Special Criminal Court for his role as getaway driver.
At the end of the brief hearing, Canavan, who was appearing via videolink from Mountjoy prison, nodded and gave a thumbs-up to indicate he understood proceedings.
After the guilty verdict last month, Detective Chief Superintendent Paul Cleary told media outside of court that Canavan’s conviction was “very significant” and that gardaí had now convictions for the “whole murder cell”.
“This team were very forensically aware,” he said. “They put a lot of planning and thought into it, they used four cars, two of which were stolen, the two others were legitimate but used as ‘spotters’, so it was very significant that we were able to get the whole murder cell involved.
“This gang all operated in joint enterprise they all had different roles but very well defined roles and it shows the level of planning that went into this murder.”
Det Supt Cleary said Douglas’ family were “satisfied” with the conviction on an important day for the family and the Dublin 8 community. He praised the work of the detective unit in Kevin Street, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Garda Technical Bureau and Forensic Science Ireland and the assistance of the public.
“We are satisfied that the team who were involved on the day of the murder have been convicted,” he said.
At the trial, witness Shane Egan told the court that he was sitting in traffic in his van on Bridgefoot Street around 4pm on July 1, when he saw a man walking up the hill from Oliver Bond Street in Dublin’s Liberties. “There was something strange about him which caught my attention,” he said.
The witness said the man walked past ‘Busy Bees’, an after-school service on Bridgefoot Street and went into the entrance of Shoestown. “He stopped at the entrance and then I heard bangs, I thought they were fireworks at first,” he continued, adding that he had heard five or six bangs in total.
Egan testified that he saw the man jump backwards out of the shop and walk back down the street. “He wasn’t running, just walking. He smirked at that stage and went around the corner in the direction of Oliver Bond Street,” he said.
A worker at the ‘Busy Bees’ service also told the court how he instructed his colleagues to lock the door and get the children “out of the way” after hearing the shots.
Canavan, who appeared at the court by video-link, is the second man to be found guilty of the murder and the fourth to be convicted in relation to the shooting. He was identified by gardaí as being both a driver and a passenger in cars used in the murder.
Justice MacGrath said he was satisfied that Canavan was also part of an attempt to destroy a getaway car three days later to minimise the link between the accused and the murder.
It was the prosecution’s case that the murder was a “meticulously and carefully planned assassination” and that Canavan was “the person who literally pulled the trigger” after entering Douglas’ shop shortly after 4pm on the day of the shooting.
However, Justice McGrath said the court could not be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Canavan pulled the trigger, due to the lack of identifying evidence or DNA. He said the court agreed that the murder had been “meticulously planned”.
Professor Patrick Plunkett, a specialist in emergency medicine at St James’ Hospital, said that Douglas had penetrating wounds to the right side of his chest, back of his neck and beneath his jaw, he said. The witness said Douglas could not be resuscitated and he was pronounced dead at 4.55pm.
Detective Garda Alan Curry said he had recovered a loaded semi-automatic pistol with its serial number removed next to the victim’s head. The detective said he made the firearm safe at the scene by removing the magazine, which contained five rounds of ammunition. Three cartridge cases found on the floor outside the shop indicated that the shots were discharged from the roadway, he said, adding that the hammer of the weapon was still cocked and it had the capacity to hold 15 rounds of ammunition.
Canavan was also found guilty of a second charge of criminal damage to a Suzuki Swift vehicle at Strand Road, Sandymount, on July 4, 2016, the property of Teresa Devoy.
The non-jury court previously heard that Canavan was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage after he was found travelling at speed in a stolen vehicle which had repeatedly crashed into the Suzuki in south Dublin three days after the shooting.
Canavan had €1,065 in cash and his clothing smelled of petrol when gardai stopped him and Foley in Crumlin, in one of the four cars allegedly used in the killing of Douglas.
The judge said that four different vehicles had been used in the murder in a “carefully planned assassination”. A Mercedes car used in the killing was found burned out near the shooting and a stolen Suzuki Swift was then used to ferry those in the Mercedes away from the burn site.
Justice McGrath said that each of the participants in the joint enterprise had a shared intention and separate roles in the killing.
The judge said he was satisfied that Canavan participated in the burning and ramming of the “ultimate getaway vehicle” – the Suzuki – three days after the murder. He said Canavan’s intent was to “destroy” the Suzuki in order to tie up loose ends and minimise his connection to the murder.
A Mitsubishi Mirage car, in which Canavan was a rear-seat passenger, left the area where the Suzuki was set alight and paint-transfer analysis later confirmed that the same car was used to ram the Suzuki.
The judge said that while the court was satisfied that Canavan committed the criminal damage, it was not entirely satisfied that he was also the gunman.
Justice McGrath said that he believed eyewitness Egan was mistaken in his identification and that forensic analysis of the pistol grip pointed towards another male.
During the trial, Egan described the gunman as being about 5ft 8 or 5ft 10 in height but less than 6ft and was in his late twenties or early thirties, had stubble on his face and was wearing a hoodie.
In cross-examination, defence counsel Michael Bowman SC put it to Egan that he had told gardai in his statement that he was confident he would recognise the shooter if he saw him again, as he had turned and looked at him. The barrister further put it to Egan that he had also told gardai that the shooter had dark hair, which was cut short.
“Yes, that’s what I said,” replied Egan, adding that he was not asked to attend an identity parade.
In re-examination, prosecution counsel Sean Gillane SC asked the witness what he wanted to clarify when he returned to the garda station to make a second statement on July 11. “I wanted to clarify that it wasn’t the colour of his hair, in fact I couldn’t see his hair as he had his hoodie up,” he replied.
Bowman had also argued that a swab taken from the pistol grip of the gun contained identifiable DNA attributable to another man, who was later arrested for Douglas’ murder.
The judge said while the CCTV footage in the case was of varying quality, Canavan’s fingerprints, however, were found on the rear-view mirror of a spotter vehicle; a Ford Fiesta.
Gardaí later identified Canavan, Foley and Thompson at the Little Caesar restaurant at about 7.30pm on the day of the murder.
Judge MacGrath said that while Canavan, Foley and Thompson were “friends”, the only reasonable inference he could make was that the meeting was not one of friendship but one of “common enterprise of those intimately connected and centrally involved in the murder”.
Passing judgement, Judge MacGrath said that Canavan was guilty of the murder due to his “active participation” in the “shared intention” of the murder of Douglas.
At the trial, Sean Gillane SC, prosecuting, stressed that the actions of Canavan could not be “divorced” from the actions of Thompson, Brophy and Foley, who have all been jailed in connection with the murder
Gillane said that there was “overwhelming evidence” in the case and the only rational conclusion to be drawn was that Douglas’ murder had been “meticulously planned”. The sourcing of four vehicles had provided logistical support to the individuals carrying out the killing and the use of a semi-automatic pistol with its serial number removed was “brazenly” left at the scene, next to the deceased’s head, he said.
Gillane said the court must address the essential elements of the plan, its participants and how they had each contributed to the incident.
Counsel said that a stolen Mercedes car, “the ultimate murder vehicle”, had no innocent purpose and transported the “ultimate trigger puller” to and from the scene of the killing. The occupants of the Mercedes had transferred to a stolen silver Suzuki Swift, “the ultimate getaway car”, within minutes after the killing, he said. Furthermore, counsel said a silver Ford Fiesta had a manifest role in “ferrying people” to and from “the plan” and a blue Mitsubishi Mirage had rammed the Suzuki before its attempted burning.
Regarding Canavan, counsel said his actions on the day were “intimately connected” to the commission of this offence and he had contributed to the crucial end result, namely the killing of Douglas. Furthermore, the movement of the vehicles that day proved beyond any doubt that they were “instruments of murder” and inextricably lead to the conclusion that the occupants of the cars were participants of the plan and had been acting in concert on the day, he indicated.
The plan was organised as a wheel with the killing at its centre and a number of spokes weaved inwards and outwards, he said, beginning with the crucial starting point of the Fiesta and Suzuki travelling in convoy on the morning of July 1. This was the first major building block in the plan to murder Douglas and from that point on the clock “was ticking for him”, he said.
A man wearing a red top, grey bottoms and holding an umbrella can be seen emerging from the driver’s side of the Mercedes on Merton Avenue and being picked up by the driver of the Fiesta around 10.41am, he said. It is the prosecution’s case that the same man, Canavan, can be seen approaching a shop on Donore Avenue and walking back in the direction of the Fiesta, he said. In addition, the barrister said that the Suzuki was “coincidentally” driven by a person in a red top that morning.
Gillane stressed that Canavan was crucially and significantly involved in the position of the murder car, execution car and getaway car by 10.41am that morning and before the afternoon was reached he was “up to his neck in this enterprise”.
By 3.55pm that day, the wheel was turning with all spokes leading in and out of the central purpose of the plan, which was to murder Douglas, he said.
Gillane said a level of criticism was made against eyewitness Shane Egan by the defence, when he gave a second statement to gardai clarifying that he had not actually seen the shooter’s hair as his hood was up. There was simply no mystery to this, said Gillane, and Egan had admitted to gardai that he might have been in error in his first statement when he told gardai that the shooter had dark hair.
Following the shooting, the Mercedes left Oliver Bond Street and was driven at considerable speed, said Gillane, adding that Canavan became the driver of the Suzuki and could be seen on CCTV footage at Merrion Gates at 16.24 in the red top.
There are loose ends left to tie up, said Gillane, and three days later the accused was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage after he was found travelling at speed in the Mitsubishi which had repeatedly crashed into the Suzuki on Strand Road three days after the shooting. “It’s a run of very bad luck that Canavan is connected to all of the vehicles but the coincidences don’t stop there and remain in abundance because of the forensic evidence,” he said.
Evidence has been given that two of Canavan’s fingermarks were found on the internal rear view mirror of the silver Ford Fiesta, one of the “spotter” cars used in the shooting which the State contend was used for logistics.
In summary, Gillane said this was a “meticulously planned execution” of another man with overwhelming evidence establishing that the accused was a part of it. He asked the non-jury court to find Canavan guilty of both counts on the indictment.
Defence counsel Michael Bowman SC had said the prosecution case was that his client was “literally the man who pulled the trigger” and this carried a very real risk as it was “referable to the colour red”.
“We hear so frequently of the red top that we come to automatically connect that to the individual as though there is no alternative prospect,” said Bowman, adding that the court was being invited to determine that any time it sees a flash of red then it can only be Canavan.
“The prosecution case is that red equals Lee Canavan because on the prosecution case Lee Canavan is wearing red,” he argued, adding that the height of the State’s case was entirely dependent on the red top.
Pointing to the evidence given by Gda McAvinue and Det Sgt Whitelaw, Bowman said there was a marked reluctance on their part to acknowledge the presence of what was most apparent in the CCTV footage, the man’s “distinctive ginger hair”.
Garda Patrick McAvinue and Detective Sergeant Adrian Whitelaw gave recognition evidence in the trial identifying the accused in CCTV footage taken on the day of the killing.