Review of the week of Shell to Sea court hearings
crime and justice |
Saturday December 19, 2009 18:44 by Rudiger
Justice is worth fighting for
Maura Harrington stated in court "the reality at Glengad is that Justice and the Law are mutually exclusive" and as the general secretary of the Garda Representative Association (GRA), PJ Stone eloquently put it this week, sometimes “justice is worth fighting for”.
Last week (from 7th to 11th Dec) saw a week of special Shell to Sea sittings in Belmullet District Court to deal with campaigners who oppose the Corrib Gas Project. In total 25 people were up in court before Judge Gerard Haughton who had been drafted in for the week. 7 peoples had cases heard, while the other 18 peoples' cases were either introduced or just up for mention.
The week ended with Maura Harrington in jail after she received a 9 month sentence for cutting a net and causing damage of €160. The judge initially suspended the sentence but sent Maura to prison when she refused to be bound to the peace for 2 years. Other sentences included Terence Conway who was banned from driving for 4 years, Pat O Donnell who received a 2 month suspended sentence (suspended for six months) for breach of the peace and Niall Harnett who received a 3 month suspended sentence (bound to the peace for 18 months) for obstruction of a Garda. Martin Harrington received a 5 month suspended sentence for a section 2 assault on a Garda, while Pete Lavelle received a €500 fine - also for a section 2 assault on a Garda. Trevor Houghton received a €400 fine for not leaving the water when told to by a Garda while out on his kayak.
It was clear to see from the week that the Gardaí have really begun to start to target selected campaigners in earnest. Defence barrister Leo Mulrooney spent the week making strong and persuasive submissions and Judge Gerard Haughton spent the week batting them away and doing at least as good a job at prosecuting people as the actual prosecution. Great credit is due to Mr. Mulrooney and defence solicitor Alan Gannon.
The Judge said a number of times during the week that he respected people’s right to protest but that people weren't entitled to break the law. At one stage Judge Haughton said to Niall Harnett that if he wanted to highlight the problems with the Corrib Project he should have held a banner across from the Glengad gates rather than block the gates with his car. I think this basically sums up the attitude of the powers that be to protest. If something is wrong and unjust make a complaint and hold a sign as it continues, but for goodness sake don't do anything that’s inconvenient to the rich and powerful.
You can read another campaigner’s overall thoughts on the week in court here: http://livinginrossport.wordpress.com/2009/12/14/judge-...nest/
In the first call-over of the list of cases to be heard of the week, the Garda prosecution announced that they were dropping the charges against Jonathan O'Donnell. If anyone ever states that the Gardaí are just doing their job in relation to the Corrib Gas Project, this is the case that they should be directed to. On the 25th June '09, just as the Solitaire was about to enter Broadhaven bay, the Gardaí arrested both Jonathan and his father Pat while they were aboard their 2 boats. This was a repeat of what the Gardaí had done in 2008 when they had arrested both Pat and Jonathan twice in 24 hours. So, on the 25th June, Jonathan was arrested under Section 8 of the Public Order act for supposedly loitering in his fishing grounds on his own boat. Jonathan was brought before Judge Mary Devins who remanded him in custody to Castlerea prison. Jonathan O'Donnell spent a night in Castlerea prison and subsequently a habeas corpus case was brought to High Court claiming that he had been illegally detained. The High Court judge found that he had been legally detained but released him from custody pending his case. The Gardaí had seized his fishing boat and refused to give it back until Mr O'Donnell gave an undertaking that he wouldn't return to Broadhaven Bay. The Gardaí in the meantime stretched out the case for as long as they could - at a previous sitting of Belmullet District Court they asked for an adjournment stating that they wanted to contact the DPP about the possibility of more charges being brought against Jonathan O’Donnell. However, now that it was finally up for hearing the Gardaí withdrew the charges. Defence barrister Leo Mulrooney sought to find out the reason the charges were dropped. The Judge stated that prosecution were entitled to withdraw the charges as they saw fit. The fact that this young man had spent a night in Castlerea Prison and had appeared on the RTE News in handcuffs as he came out of court, for absolutely no good reason, didn't even warrant a mention. Jonathan O’Donnell is taking a case regarding this false imprisonment, and also has a case in the High Court challenging a number of aspects of the unauthorised development at Glengad.
The first case of the week that was heard was the case of Trevor Houghton who was charged with not obeying the direction a Garda who ordered him to leave the safety zone/exclusion zone/ construction site on the water on the 22nd June this year. Mr Houghton was out on the water in Broadhaven Bay along with 10 other kayakers and a swimmer. Garda Daly and Sgt. Cosgrove of the Garda Water Unit said that they were worried for Mr Houghton’s safety as there were 2 dredgers operating in the bay at the time. Both Gardaí swore under oath a number of times that Mr Houghton was inside (what they called) the safety zone which was marked by a series of buoys. When giving evidence Mr Houghton produced a sequence of photographs to show that he was in fact well outside the safety zone when arrested. However in a episode that was to repeat itself a number of times throughout the week, Judge Haughton pretended not to see that the Gardaí had in fact lied and instead tried to fudge his understanding of where the buoys were in relation to the arrest.
In his direct evidence, Mr Houghton stated that he had reasonable excuse to be in the water that day. Mr Houghton stated that his main reason for opposing Shell’s plans in Mayo is because of the effect that setting up a new frontier for gas and oil in Ireland will have in relation to climate change. Mr Houghton said that he worked as an Energy & Climate Change Consultant and had done work for the British government in relation to planning and climate change. Mr Houghton stated that he had been trying to prevent a greater crime taking place, and that if we continue to extract fossil fuels then the number of people dying and losing their homes will greatly increase. Before Mr Houghton could continue any further however he was shut down by Judge Haughton who said that he would not allow Mr Houghton to proceed on that basis. In sentencing Judge Haughton set his stall out for how he was going to judge the rest of the week by saying that while he accepted that Mr Houghton believed passionately in what he was doing, that “doesn’t give a license to anyone to break the law”. Judge Haughton said that it didn’t really matter if he had been outside the safety zone when arrested and found him guilty, and ridiculously compared it to somebody running from the scene of a crime. Mr Houghton was fined €400.
The first case that Niall Harnett had up was for Section 9 of the public order act (blocking vehicles). On the 29th of April 09, Mr Harnett parked his car in front of the gates of Shell’s Glengad compound. Niall argued this case on the grounds that he had a reasonable excuse to block and obstruct the vehicles because of Health & Safety issues, the giveaway of the gas, environmental concerns and the fact that the works in Glengad hadn’t received any planning permission. Prosecution officer, Supt. Larkin however countered saying that “planning and politics have no bearing on this at all”. One expert witness that spoke on the safety aspects of the pipeline was Commandant Paddy Boyle who worked as the Chief Instructor at the Army Ordnance School and has expertise on what can happen when pipelines fail and gas explosions. Comdt. Boyle gave evidence that he felt the 140 metre safety distance between the pipeline and the nearest homes “wasn’t anywhere near adequate”. He stated that the separation distance that Shell should be looking at should be in terms of kilometres. Comdt Boyle also made reference to the Ghislenghien gas pipeline explosion which was operating at 70 bar (less than half the proposed pressure of the Corrib pipeline) and which killed 24 people and injured 140.
In his evidence Niall Harnett told how he had made submissions to An Bord Pleanala regarding the onshore pipeline and that the Bord had recently stated that Shell had completely omitted a section of the pipeline from their planning application. Mr Harnett told the court that he had pulled his car in front of the gates to try to obstruct this illegal work. The Judge found Niall guilty of this offence stating that as there was no gas in the pipe at the time there was no immediate danger from an explosion and so no immediate danger to the people in the area. At one stage he also commented “No civilised society can operate where individuals take it upon themselves to act not through the law but through direct action”. Niall Harnett was fined €200 for this offence.
In a second case involving Niall Harnett he was found guilty of obstructing Garda Payton when he pushed Garda Payton while the latter was manning a road checkpoint. Mr Harnett in evidence told how the Gardaí were stopping people going to the Rossport Solidarity House and the local hostel and that he believed the Gardaí weren’t acting lawfully. The case was argued on a legal point of law as to whether the Gardaí were correct to use the Road Traffic Act to set up the checkpoint and not use a section of the Public Order act if they feared Public Order breaches. The judge found the Gardaí had acted lawfully and so sentenced Niall to a three-month sentence suspended for 18 months. Read more on this case here: http://www.shelltosea.com/node/140
In the only case that was dismissed all week, Judge Haughton dismissed a speeding charge against Maura Harrington as she hadn’t been served with a fixed point penalty notice before she was served a summons.
In another case involving Maura and her brother Martin, the court heard how on the 5th Sept 08, Ms Harrington drove her van and parked in front of the gates of the Glengad compound. Sgts Hanley & Cunnane then told of how they made their way into the van through the back door. The accounts of the Harringtons and the 2 Gardaí then diverged with the Gardaí saying it was all calm in the van while the Gardaí tried to open the door of vans to get the 2 occupants out until Martin Harrington burned Sgt Hanley with a cigeratte. The Harringtons however claimed that one of the Sgt’s had his hands around Martins neck and there was a fair bit of struggling. Martin stated that it’s possible his cigarette came in contact with Sgt Hanley’s hand during the struggle but it wasn’t done deliberately if so. Anyway the judge believed the Gardaí and Martin was found guilty of assault and given a 5 month suspended sentence, while Maura was given a €200 fine for obstructing the gate.
In Ms Harrington’s final case which is the one that she was imprisoned for, she was found guilty of cutting nets and causing damage of €160 on Good Friday, 10th April 09. You can read an account of the day here http://www.indymedia.ie/article/91889
Defence Barrister Leo Mulrooney fought the case on legal points including that the State hadn’t adequately proved who the net belonged to and the existence of the company claimed to own to nets. However Judge Haughton was having none of it and convicted Ms Harrington. In mitigation Ms Harrington told the court that she had cut the nets and they should have been up there and that she remembered when that cliff had had many sand-martin nests in it. Bizarrely then Judge Haughton got into questioning Ms Harrington’s religious beliefs, and at one stage asked her “What does the Crucifixion mean to you?”. This stemmed from the fact that Ms Harrington had chosen to affirm before she gave evidence rather than swear on the bible. After being questioned by the learned judge Ms Harrington told the court that she was a practicing Roman Catholic but that she had witnessed that particular bible being sworn upon and then sullied by Garda perjury, and so she had opted not to swear on that copy of the bible. Judge Haughton finished off this line of questioning stating that it appeared to him to be peculiar.
After that digression however Ms Harrington stated that "Given the continuing imposition of the proposed Corrib Gas Project, the reality at Glengad is that Justice and the Law are mutually exclusive. My reality exists in the interest of Justice, and I can live with it. You Judge, must live with your reality and that is an appalling vista." At this a number of supporters in the court began clapping however the judge selected out Ms Harrington’s husband Naoise O Mongain and had him held in Belmullet Garda Station over lunch for alleged contempt of court. After lunch Mr O’Mongain was barred from returning to the court for the day after he insisted on being addressed in Irish.
In sentencing Judge Haughton made reference to the fact that there had been children present on the day and that there were other adults there egging Ms Harrington on to continue breaking the law. He also stated that Ms Harrington’s actions were only one step away from her deciding that her neighbours house was blocking her view and then going and knocking down her neighbours house. Ms Harrington was initially sentenced to a 9 month sentence suspended for 2 years. However Ms Harrington refused to sign the bond and so was brought to Mountjoy.
Pete Lavelle was up on charges of assault of a Guard for allegedly spitting on Garda Coen on 22nd April 2009. This was the day that Shell came into Glengad to set up a compound this year and was the day before the night that Willie Corduff was beaten up. In his evidence Garda Coen stated that on the day in question tensions were very high as 2 protestors were lodged under a truck. The Gardaí had succeeded in removing one protestor from under the lorry. Garda Coen stated that around this time Pete Lavelle was using a lot of abusive language both towards IRMS security and towards himself. Garda Coen then stated that then Mr Lavelle spat at him a number of times and hit him once. In his evidence Pete Lavelle stated that he had been very agitated at the time as the Gardaí were pulling at his brother in law (Willie Corduff) who was under the truck and he could here his brother in law shouting in pain. Mr. Corduff was being beaten on the ankle with a rock by Inspector Doherty at this time. Mr Lavelle didn’t deny using abusive language but he vehemently denied spitting at the Garda deliberately. Mr Lavelle stated that he remembered spitting but had turned his head away. He said that the wind must have picked it up and if it did hit the Garda then he was sorry. He stated that he would never deliberately spit at anyone. Gerry Lavelle, Pete’s brother was standing behind both Pete Lavelle and Garda Coen at the time and he corroborated Pete’s story that he had turned away before he spat. However the Judge chose to believe the Garda Coen’s version of events over the version of the two Lavelles’. The Judge fined Pete Lavelle €500 for the offence.
Pat O Donnell
Pat O Donnell was given a 2 month sentence suspended for 6 months after Judge Haughton found him guilty of a Section 6 breach of the peace for using threatening and abusive behaviour towards Sgt O’ Malley. Pat O’Donnell denied being threatening to Sgt O’Malley but did admit using some expletives. He stated that Sgt O’Malley had waved him down and when he went over Sgt O’Malley, the Garda had threatened to bring him before the courts first of all for speeding and then for being abusive. Mr O’Donnell admitted saying to Sgt O’Malley “sure ye’re sick of arresting me, I don’t give a fuck”. Sgt O’Malley also claimed that Mr O’Donnell called him a prick, however Mr O’Donnell denied this. Sgt O’Malley also claimed that Mr O’Donnell came face to face with him and that they had to be separated by Sgt Cunnane. Sgt Cunnane gave a similar account of events to Sgt O Malley (albeit hammed up to the last in true Garda action–man style). However CCTV footage clearly showed that Mr O’Donnell and Sgt O’Malley weren’t separated as was claimed. However the Judge found Mr O’Donnell guilty claiming that it seemed from the CCTV footage that he wasn’t standing a normal distance away from Sgt O’Malley.
Terence Conway had 2 cases against him. The first one involved using threatening and abusive language towards Sgt Sean Cunnane on the 17th September 08 outside the Shell offices in Belmullet. Sgt Cunnane told how a protest was taking place outside the offices and that 3 people had gotten onto the roof of the offices and were holding a banner. Sgt Cunnane told that as some of the Shell employees were leaving the offices there was booing and jeering. He then told of how Terence Conway walked up to some of the employees and tried to engage with them. Sgt Cunnane said that Terence Conway went up to the car window of Christy Loftus, a former Western People journalist who now works on Shell PR, and knocked on the side-window. Sgt Cunnane also made a big play on the fact that Mr Conway was holding a video camera at the time and that Sgt Cunnane felt the filming of the employees would be threatening and not respectful of the privacy to the employees. This blatant hypocrisy of Sgt Cunnane didn't go down too well among some of the assembled crowd who are well used to Gardaí and IRMS filming them. Sitting in the crowd was also Colm Henry who has made complaints to the Gardaí regarding IRMS filming his grandchildren while they played on the beach. In his evidence Terence Conway stated that he didn't impede anyone from leaving and his only purpose in approaching people was to give them a DVD. This was borne out in a video of the incident that was played. The video showed Sgt Cunnane go up to Terence Conway just as Christy Loftus was driving away unimpeded. Sgt Cunnane accused Mr Conway of intimadating Christy Loftus, to which Terence Conway replied “Listen mule, I didn't intimidate anyone”. In his direct evidence Christy Loftus stated that he wasn't intimidated by Mr Conway's actions. Even though it was absolutely clear that the incident had been caused by Sgt. Cunnane, Judge Haughton ruled that because a group of protesters had gathered around Mr Conway after Sgt Cunnane came up to him that a breach of the peace could have occurred. He therefore found Terence Conway guilty and fined him 200 euro. It is worth nothing that Sgt Cunnane is the Garda who caused criminal damage by cutting the chain around the gates down to Pollathomais Pier, after which Gardaí and Shell trespassed on private land and caused over 20 injuries forcing their way down to the pier.
In a second case involving Terence Conway, he was found guilty of leaving the scene of an accident and banned for driving for 4 years. He had also been charged with 2 counts of assault and one of criminal damage but Judge Haughton deemed there was insufficient evidence to convict on these charges. The incident revolved around an incident in which Terence Conway's car came in contact with the gates at Glengad. The Judge was unclear about whether initially the gate hit the car or the car reversed into the gate. In this case, 4 IRMS security guards gave evidence and one, Arthur Grosni stated that he had received an injured wrist from the incident. He stated that a red car reversed into the gates just as they were closing it, he said the gate was forced open and had injured his wrist. Under cross-examination however it was put to the security guards that the gate could have gone out past the position it usually closes at and so the gate could have hit the car. Some stated that it would have been possible for the gate to go out further than the usual close position. In his judgement the Judge found that Terence Conway didn't stay at the gates for a sufficient time after the incident even though all the IRMS witnesses stated that Terence Conway had got out of his car after the incident and stayed around for about 5 minutes It is worth noting that one of the IRMS security guards who made a statement regarding the incident but not surprisingly wasn't there to give evidence was one Tibor Revez, who was one of the IRMS guards who was out in Bolivia last autumn, allegedly participating in a plot to assassinate President Evo Morales and forment civil war in that country. He was mentioned in the recent Prime-Time into the investigation into Michael Dwyer’s death in Bolivia. See http://www.rte.ie/player/#v=1061676
In the past week Maura Harrington was released from Mountjoy on Monday (14th December) pending her appeal. Meanwhile on Wednesday (16th Dec), Pat O Donnell, Martin McDonnell and Gary Bohan were sentenced to 6 months in prison for a conviction of obstructing 3 Gardaí. The 6 month sentence was imposed after the 3 men refused to consent to doing community service. They were then sent to Castlerea prison despite the fact that they had the money for bail all prepared. It is unclear as to why they were forced to spend the night in Castlerea prison but it was about 6pm on Thursday 17th when they were released pending their appeal.
Overall 12 people have now been given prison sentences for their opposition to Shell.
Maura Harrington recieved 9 months for causing €160 damage to Shell nets
Sgt Cunnane (with bolt cutters) causing criminal damage at Pollathomais Pier: no charge
Christy Loftus - ex journalist turned Shell PR man