Irish man wanted for assaulting UK cop busted in NY — more than 40 years later

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A man wanted for allegedly breaking a British cop’s nose more than four decades ago was finally arrested last week in Rockland County — and now the UK is trying to extradite him back over the pond, according to newly unsealed court papers and transcripts.

Ireland native Rory McGrath was arrested by federal authorities at his home in Pearl River on May 11 and presented in front of a judge in federal court last Friday, according to the documents. He was released on a $1 million personal recognizance bond and will face an extradition hearing in mid-June.

His arrest comes after British authorities recently spent several years trying to capture and extradite McGrath, now 62 — in what legal experts say is a highly unusual effort given the relatively low-level and decades-old allegation.

McGrath is accused of assaulting the cop amid a street brawl in Leeds on the night of March 28, 1980, when he was living in the UK city in his early 20s, according to court documents unsealed Monday.

The melee kicked off when one of McGrath’s friends, Leslie Swithenbank, allegedly punched another youth near a pub in the Garforth section of the city after two groups of young men got into an argument, prosecutors said.

“They were giving us a load of lip so I went and cracked one everybody joined in and we knacked ’em,” Swithenbank later told police, according to the documents.

A local cop tried to break up the brawl and ended up sitting on Swithenbank in the street in an attempt to detain him, according to prosecutors.

A group of his friends — including McGrath, who later told police he had just been released from jail earlier that day — then attacked the cop, hurling him to the ground and kicking him, prosecutors allege.

Swithenbank later told police that McGrath, “got one of the bastards off my back” during the melee, court docs say.

The group ran off, but the officer gave chase and caught up with them in the parking lot of another local pub, where he tried to arrest McGrath. “The silly c—t got hold of Rory this time,” another one of the toughs involved in melee later told cops, court papers say.

McGrath then allegedly “booted the cop” — and slugged him in the face, breaking his nose, according to prosecutors. The cop, who is still alive today and retired from the West Yorkshire Police as a sergeant, needed surgery to repair the injury.

McGrath and several of the other young men were arrested soon after.

But instead of fighting his rap in court, he left the UK and ultimately made it to New York, where he’s lived ever since, according to the court documents.

Suddenly, in 2018, UK authorities filed an extradition request to the US State Department, asking for him to be transferred to their custody. In 2020, an attorney for the US State Department wrote the request was covered by a 2003 treaty inked by the US and Great Britain.

At his presentment last week, McGrath — who now holds both US and Irish citizenship — told the judge he was shocked by his arrest, according to a transcript of the proceeding.

During the hearing, Magistrate Judge Paul Davis said he was at first inclined to order McGrath locked up until his extradition hearing, but agreed to release him on bail after his lawyer highlighted his health issues — which he said were caused by volunteering at Ground Zero after 9/11.

Davis said it was clear McGrath did not view himself as a fugitive — noting he once even flew back to the UK to attend a wedding.

“On the one hand, Mr. McGrath has apparently been a fugitive from justice for most of his adult life. On the other hand, I am told that he attended a wedding in the United Kingdom during the intervening years, which suggests to me that he did not view himself as a fugitive,” he said.

He then warned him to not jump bail in New York.

“You know, this has been hanging over your head all your life, and you need to get it behind you. But really, really bad things will happen to you and your family if you violate the terms of this bond,” he added.

McGrath faces five years in prison if convicted of assaulting the cop.

A woman who answered the door at his home on Tuesday morning said he couldn’t speak about the case, but said “it’s very upsetting for the family.” 

Spokespeople for the UK Home Office and the West Yorkshire Police would not comment on why they’ve sought McGrath’s extradition for an assault that occurred some four decades ago.

But the move is definitely “out of the ordinary,” said Heather Cucolo, a professor at New York Law School.

Cucolo said extradition for the alleged assault on a cop would hold some weight in deterring crime — but theorized that political factors may have influenced the decision to seek his return to the UK.

“More significant might be hinged on the aftermath of Brexit. At least 10 EU countries have refused to extradite their nationals to face prosecution directly related to Brexit, citing constitutional barriers,” she wrote in an email.

“In particular citing the crime as ‘political’ is one of the barriers to extradition. Therefore, British officials may be turning their attention more rigorously to other countries such as the US to effectuate prosecutions.

In a statement, the West Yorkshire Police said only that it “is liaising with the Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to a man arrested in the US following an extradition request linked to an assault on a police officer in Leeds in 1980.”

An attorney for McGrath declined to comment.

Additional reporting by Kevin Sheehan

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