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Belmullet District Court Report - Shell to Sea ‘3’ Accused.
Thursday May 24, 2007 23:56 by Niall Harnett - Shell to Sea.
“I didn’t think anything.” - Garda Sgt Dermot Butler MY28. “That’s clear.” - Alan Gannon, Solicitor for the Defendants.
Belmullet District Court - Monday 21st May 2007.
A synopsis and flavour of the first day in an estimated 2 day sitting of Belmullet District Court where 3 men, ‘the Chief’ Patrick O’Donnell, Johnathan O’Donnell and Enda Carey are accused of assault causing harm to members of An Garda Síochána near the proposed Shell Refinery Site, Bellanaboy, Co Mayo on 12th October 2006.
14 Gardaí gave oral evidence for the prosecution, with some video evidence shown also in court on Monday 21st May.
Defence witnesses will be called at the next sitting for this case, set for Wed 30th May. Judge Mary Devins has also asked to visit the ‘locus’ of the incident on that morning before court and will be accompanied to the place of alleged incident at Bellanaboy, by the prosecuting Superintendent and the solicitor for the defendants, Mr Alan Gannon.
Enda Carey, Johnathan O’Donnell and his father Pat O’Donnell arrive at court.
Garda Sgt Donal Glennon gave evidence that while on “crowd control and public order duty”, he was walking along the verge of the Bellanaboy road where the road was blocked from side to side, by a sit down protest of a large number of people, he had been ‘struck in the midriff’ before ending up head first into 3-4 feet of water in a steep sided drain which runs along the side and below the level of the road. Sgt Glennon suffered a fractured thumb arising out of this incident where he said he did not see who pushed him into the drain. A video of the incident which was shown in court could not clarify how Sgt Glennon had fallen into the drain but could only show a number of people climbing back out of the drain including the Sergeant and two of the defendants. Under cross-examination by Mr. Alan Gannon, solicitor for the defendants, who pointed out that for Gardaí to attempt to clear the road by dangerously compressing people into a smaller space of road with deep drains on either side would result in people instinctively pushing back to protect themselves, Sgt Glennon accepted that Gardaí had inadvertently been pushed into the drains on previous occasions when similar incidents had happened at Bellanaboy. Sgt. Glennon conceded to Mr Gannon that he did not know what caused him to end up in the drain and he could not say that it was an assault.
Garda Barry Byrne gave evidence that while on duty a little later on in the morning he was hit in the side of the head by the fist of Johnathan O’Donnell while there was a lot of pushing and shoving going on. While detained at Belmullet Garda station, it appears that Mr O’Donnell was questioned only in relation to the earlier incident involving Sgt Glennon and not about the offence for which he was arrested. Questions were raised by solicitor Mr. Alan Gannon about Garda Byrne’s ‘adherence to the Act of legislation’ under which Mr O’Donnell had been detained. Mr Gannon went on to point out that “mistakes had been made” by ‘Member in Charge’ Garda Gerry Luby, interviewers Sgt James Gill and Garda Barry Byrne with regard to the protection of Mr O’Donnell’s rights while in custody.
Garda Dave Mulhall gave evidence and described himself as a member of a “plain clothes unit attached to ‘specialist training’ at Templemore under Sgt. Conor O’Reilly”, who Garda Mulhall described as a “Public Order Advisor & Specialist“. Garda Mulhall said that there were 4 individuals including the 3 defendants, who tackled Sgt Glennon in a rugby style tackle causing him to fall back into the drain.
Garda Mulhall was questioned by Mr Gannon about the history of the relationship between Garda Mulhall and the two defendants, Pat & Johnathan O’Donnell. It’s well known that Garda Mulhall’s life was saved in 1997 by both Pat & Johnathan O‘Donnell, when Garda divers and Irish Coast Guard members got into trouble at sea trying to rescue a family in darkness from a flooded cave in an increasingly dangerous swell. Garda Mulhall dismissed the extraordinary efforts of the two men to whom he owes his life, commenting that “any member of such a close knit community would have assisted in such a search and rescue operation”. Four people drowned that night and one of the men rescued, among others, was Garda Mulhall who was pulled from the sea by Pat O’Donnell and his 12 year old son (at the time) Johnathan, who were, in fact, the ‘only members of that community’ who went to sea together after having heard a distress call go out on a VHF emergency channel at home in their house earlier that evening.
Sergeant Dermot Butler gave evidence by reading a written account of an interview where he and Garda Gary Walsh had questioned Pat O’Donnell in the video interview room. Sgt Butler said that “he had become aware of the Sgt Glennon incident” and took responsibility for its investigation. Mr Gannon, defence solicitor, felt it was important for the judge to see the full interview on video as Sgt. Butler’s account of it differed materially from the video. As well as showing verbal abuse by Sgt Butler on the tape which was not recorded in the written account, where Sgt Butler called Mr'O'Donnell "a liar and a fucking liar", there were also questions raised as to the legality of the continued detention of Mr O’Donnell for questioning, the procedure by which the interview was conducted, and an allegation by Mr O’Donnell on tape that he had been punched in the chin by Sergeant James Gill at the time of the alleged incident. Sgt Butler was questioned as to why he had not investigated that incident after hearing complaint of it from Mr O’Donnell, but instead chose to investigate the Sgt Glennon incident when no complaint had been made to him by Sgt. Glennon himself. Mr Gannon pointed out that a Sergeant has ‘unique investigative powers’ and when Mr O’Donnell gave him information of his assault, then Sgt Butler was duty bound to investigate it. As Sgt Butler persisted in avoiding many questions in this regard, Mr Gannon asked him “What were you thinking at the time Sgt Butler”. “I didn’t think anything” was Sgt Butler’s reply. “That’s clear” said Mr Gannon.
Sgt. Butler has been a Garda for 20 years.
There followed evidence from Sergeant James Gill who interviewed Johnathan O’Donnell, and evidence from Garda Gerry Luby who, as ‘Member in Charge’ of the station, was instrumental in securing the continued detention of the defendants for interview. Whereas the defendants were arrested for Assault - Section 3 of the Non Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997; they were detained in custody under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1984, an act whereby, as Mr Gannon pointed out, there must be a high standard of evidence that the prisoner is guilty of the offence for which he was arrested, and where there must be good reason to believe that the prisoner is guilty of that offence, and where that offence carries a penalty of five years imprisonment or more.
Sgt Gill admitted that he couldn’t see the difference between ‘involvement’ and ‘guilt’. Sgt Gill had said to Johnathan O’Donnell in the interview that ‘he had seen him do it’, but admitted under cross-examination that ‘he didn’t see him’. Sgt Gill admitted ‘assuming incorrectly ’ Mr O’Donnell’s ‘involvement’ in the incident. “Do you think it’s right to put untruths to a person in interview Sgt. Gill”, asked Mr Gannon. Sgt. Gill did not answer.
Garda Luby gave evidence that Enda Carey, who had been arrested for a ‘breach of the peace’ offence contrary to Section 6 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, was detained and re-arrested on release for a Section 3 Assault Offence. Under cross-examination from Mr Gannon, Garda Luby could not give lawful provision from the ‘Public Order Act’ for his detention in the first instance. Nor could Garda Luby say what authority he had to hold Johnathan O’Donnell in continued detention, nor give good reason for the authorisation of the taking of fingerprints and palm prints of all three suspects. Mr Gannon pointed out that it was Garda Luby’s duty as ‘Member in Charge’, under the Criminal Justice Act, 1984 (Treatment of Persons in Custody in Garda Síochána Stations) Regulations, 1987, to “look out for proper procedure in relation to the defendants and to protect them from mistreatment“.
Evidence from other Gardaí during the day showed inconsistencies in testimony and conflicting accounts of what happened. There was no video evidence of anyone going into the drain, only footage of Sgt Glennon and 2 of the defendants climbing back out, which evidence or lack of it the Gardaí seem to have relied upon for their investigation, where Sgt Butler admitted to not even seeing the video before initiating his investigation. The defendants deny the charges and serious questions are raised as to the legitimacy of their arrest, detention and prosecution.
Next date for hearing is Wednesday 30th May where evidence will be heard from the defendants and their witnesses.
Media, Supporters …
… And Friends.
Sgt. Dermot Butler MY28 with other Gardaí.
Garda Gary Walsh MY175, Garda Gerry Luby MY166 & Sgt James Gill MY23.