It was a gripping story, from shocking start to terrifying finish.
As midday struck, Judge Tony Hunt leaned forward and addressed the man calmly telling it.
“Now, Mr Lunney, there is an hour to go to lunch. Do you want to continue?”
Kevin Lunney, who had just been recalling in grisly detail his brutal beating with a fencepost, barely skipped a beat.
“Aah, I’m okay,” he casually replied, as if declining the offer of a nice cup of tea.
And that was the thing about the businessman’s testimony at the trial of four men accused of his abduction and torture: the matter-of-fact way he spoke about what happened him that autumn evening when he almost made it home from work.
It is the stuff of nightmares.
Kevin Lunney’s disturbing evidence was delivered with such chilling clarity and coherence it could have been drawn from the pages of a Stephen King novella. A blow by blow account.
Court number 17, in pre-Covid days, would have been packed solid with people eager to hear the first witness in this case. The kidnapping of the Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH) executive made big news at the time. Instead, there was a strict limit on numbers allowed into the non-jury Special Criminal Court trial, with an overflow room fitted with monitors set up for journalists.
The quietness in the courtroom heightened the sense of tension.
Sean Guerin SC, for the prosecution, opened with a simple question.
“Do you remember the 17th of September 2019?”
Slight pause from the witness.
“Yes. I do.”
And yes, he did. Every little detail gleaned during his ordeal, even though he was hooded for most of it. His thoughts, his reasoning, his fears, his pain, his attempts to work out where he was and how he might escape. What the masked attackers did to him and what they said. What it might mean. His brain working feverishly as he was bundled into the boot of a car, then tied up and taken on a long drive to a filthy horsebox where he was tortured and threatened with death and ordered to resign his position with QIH.
Among those listening was a grey-haired man wearing a violet-blue jumper and navy corduroy trousers. Luke O’Reilly (67) sat in the back row, leaning forward, taking everything in. He is one of the defendants.
Not far from him sat Kevin Lunney’s family, his wife and children. Familiar with the detail, they didn’t react as he dispassionately described the appalling violence.
To break a leg
Two more defendants sat in the dock, a few metres away from the witness. Alan O’Brien (40) from East Wall and a second man who can’t be named. They both wore blue disposable face masks and pristine white open-neck shirts. They didn’t look at Kevin Lunney.
The fourth defendant, Darren Redmond (27), wore dark casual clothes and also sat in the back of the court.
Mr Lunney, who is from Fermanagh, rested his forearms on the ledge in front of him, fingers entwined, and leaned forward into the microphone. A slight man, with greying hair and a neat beard, he wore a navy suit, light-blue shirt and grey-patterned tie.
And so he began his story, speaking softly and slowly, never raising his voice or becoming emotional as his two-hour stint on the stand unfolded. At one point, after describing how men said they had to “rough him up” before letting him go, he told how they set about breaking his leg using “a wooden implement” with great force.
He recalled roaring in pain and one of his abductors asking his fellow henchman:
“‘Did that snap?’ ‘No.’ And I shouted as well. I said ‘YES!’”
Then, for the one and only time, the witness laughed quietly, smiling at the absurdity of his interjection. “I believe I said ‘Yes’.”
From the time his car was rammed and he was kidnapped to when he was finally found in the darkness hours later, almost naked, shivering, bloodied and broken on the side of the road, Kevin Lunney painstakingly relived his nightmare for the court.
People in the court sat, riveted, as he told how they dragged him from his car, took his wallet and sliced the watch off his arm with a Stanley knife. “We want to talk to you,” they said before overpowering him and stuffing him into the boot of a waiting car.
He managed to force it open while the vehicle was speeding along. “I tried to gauge how difficult it would be to jump.” He gingerly put his right foot slightly onto the road but the sole of his shoe started to rip. He waited for the car to slow down. “I had one foot on the road, about to jump.”
Just as he was about to go for it, someone in the car turned down the back seats, slid through on his belly and grabbed his right leg. The car stopped, his shoe came off and he fell onto the road.
He was given a beating then bundled back into the boot, this time with one of the men holding both his hands through the gap in the back seat.
He could see a little through that gap – “the tops of trees, occasionally a building”. He heard one of the men on the phone saying “Boss, boss he has resisted and we’ve had to hit him.” He saw various signs, one for a dairy, another for a pub.
“I was conscious of blood running down from my face onto my arm.” In the courtroom, he tracked its course, running a finger along his face and down onto his neck.
He could have been 40 or 50 minutes in the boot. They had partially covered his eyes with some sort of cloth by then. Sight. Sounds. Touch. Smell.
“I had a sense of a building . . . I was conscious I was walking on animal manure. . . I felt there was a step up.” He was taken to a container, probably a horsebox. One shoe on, one shoe off.
He was ordered to resign from QIH, and tell three other executives to do the same or accept the consequences.
“I was saying, don’t kill me, I will do whatever you want.”
Worried about DNA, they tried to take the dirt from under his nails with the knife. “They started to scrape . . . underneath my fingernail, not particularly deep but enough to draw blood.” He begged them not to cut off his fingers.
One of the three judges started tapping the tips of the fingers of one hand against the palm of the other, then felt around his nails, then scrunched up his fingers.
Mr Lunney was left along with one of the men when the others went to get bleach. They tightened the hood over his head, made him kneel down and tied his hands behind his back.
They scrubbed him with bleach. It burned. Then they stripped him, cutting off his clothes, and some skin, with the knife.
“I was left in my boxer shorts.” One of them wanted to remove them too. “No, leave him with his dignity,” said the man who had driven the car and would shortly break his leg, slash his face and carve the letters “QIH” into his chest, saying each one as he cut.
The witness wiggled his hand, like he was writing in the air.
Finally, they moved him into a van and dumped him on the side of a road. They would kill him if he didn’t resign, or if he went to the guards.
And then, like in a movie, with his broken leg and damaged arm, he dragged himself, inch by inch, along the road. Only one side of his body was working. He could feel the blood running down his chest. He was shivering violently and exhausted. He thought he might not survive.
“I pushed myself out into the middle of the road and sat there for a short period then realised it probably wasn’t that sensible.” He pushed himself back to the side.
He heard a tractor approach. The farmer saw him and stopped, but he couldn’t get a signal on his phone and had to go running up and down the road to get one. More people arrived to help. Kevin Lunney finally got to safety.
“It probably goes without saying – the threats that were made to you, did you take them seriously?” asked Mr Guerin.