Eric Shorthall, a 23-year-old father-of-one, with an address at Muskerry Road, Ballyfermot, Dublin pleaded guilty to impeding the apprehension or prosecution of Warren Nolan, the man convicted of murdering Alan O’Neill. Mr O’Neill was shot dead on May 27th, 2015 in the driveway of his home on Kiltalown Road in Tallaght.
The court heard that two gardaí stopped Shorthall driving a Nissan Almera at an area known as the Belfry in Tallaght because they thought he looked very young; he was 18 at the time.
While Nolan was being questioned, a 999 call came in to say that an Almera was driving suspiciously in the area. Shortly after that, another call was received saying that a man had been shot in nearby Kiltalown.
Car on fire
Detective Garda Conor Harrison was one of the gardaí speaking to Shorthall. He testified at Shorthall’s sentence hearing yesterday that he then heard a car being driven very hard towards them before becoming aware that a car was on fire.
Two men then ran towards the waiting officer. One of them was Warren Nolan, who was arrested. The other person escaped.
Nolan, of Rowlagh Park in Clondalkin was convicted in December 2018 of Mr O’Neill’s murder, and of burning out the car used in the shooting, in what was described as a ‘slam dunk’ case. He recently lost an appeal against his conviction.
“The Almera was the second getaway car, strategically placed with Mr Shorthall as the driver awaiting the two people in the hit car,” said Det Garda Harrison.
The witness said that gardaí compiled CCTV footage showing Shorthall’s car in convoy with Nolan’s “hit car” in the lead-up to the shooting and showing the drivers of the cars talking to one another.
The detective said that Shorthall has 61 previous convictions for public order, theft, road traffic and drugs offences. While Shorthall and Nolan are the only people to have gone before the courts in relation to the murder, the detective said the investigation is ongoing.
He described the deceased as a “devoted family man”. He was a step-father to his partner Michelle Usher’s first two children and the couple also had a child together. He said that neither the deceased nor any member of his family were known to gardaí.
Mr Justice Paul McDermott noted today that Mr O’Neill’s family was terrorised and traumatised by his killing and that the awfulness of the events would stay with them.
He said that it was a curious feature of Shorthall’s involvement that he had used his own car.
“That’s perhaps why people get caught,” he commented. “And he was stopped by the gardaí at a crucial time.”
He said that the fact that Shorthall was the getaway driver meant that he was an active and willing participant.
“He maintains he knew only that someone would be harmed and not murdered,” he said, noting that he had, however, taken responsibility for the offence.
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The judge said that it was people such as getaway drivers, who give the likes of Warren Nolan the confidence that they can carry out their crime without being caught.
He said that Shorthall’s crime was at the upper end of the scale of seriousness for an impeding offence, noting that impeding also covers people who get involved after the crime.
He noted that he had a bad disciplinary record in prison and was assessed as being at a high risk of reoffending.
He set a headline sentence of nine years, but reduced it to six years and nine months after taking into consideration his early plea, his youth, and the fact that he had shown some remorse.