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Dublin Opinion >>
Activist Successfully Defends the Right to Protest Peacefully
Smoke on the Water
On 12/7/2009, Agnieszka Chojnacka was arrested on the Clontarf Road, outside Duffy's circus, where she was engaged in a peaceful protest.
This case finally came to court the other day, Wednesday May 26. In an incredible tour de force, the animal rights activist, who defended herself, destroyed the State's case, laying waste to the two gardaí, who took the stand to lie about her.
Agnieszka Chojnacka - Aga
Agnieszka Chojnacka, Aga to her friends, defended the right to hold beliefs, the right to communicate those beliefs to others and the right to do so in public, in Court 17 at Parkgate Street, on Wednesday the 26th of May.
Aga was charged with four separate offences:
1.Section 6 of the Public Order Act – Engaging in threatening, insulting or abusive behaviour.
2.Section 8 of the Public Order Act – Refusing or failing to leave an area after being given a lawful direction to do so.
3.Section 24 of the Public Order Act – Giving a false name and a false address.
4.Failing to show up at a hearing in violation of her bail conditions.
The first three charges were binned after the prosecution's case and before Aga needed to start her defence, where witness testimony and video evidence would have shown beyond any doubt that the Garda Síochána had acted to shut down a peaceful protest, without so much as a shred of evidence to warrant it. Judge Blake in complying with Aga's applications savaged Garda Marguerite Reilly of Clontarf Garda Station, for the general sloppiness of her prosecution and the lack of a case.
To be blunt, Garda Reilly makes a much better prosecutor than she does a garda.
The gardaí are sworn to uphold human rights and dignity. This is contained in the garda oath and in the Garda Síochána Act. Garda Reilly acted to strip human rights and trample dignity. The Garda Síochána should have no place for blatant fascism. That's a very bold statement from me and I make no apologies for it whatsoever. Here's what happened; this is what the video evidence shows:
On 12th July 2009, at approximately 2.00pm, the gardaí arrived at Clontarf Rd following a phone call from one Mark McFerran, the manager of Duffy's circus. The first garda to arrive on the scene was a garda on a bicycle, shoulder no. J177. I shall refer to him as “the coward,” from here on in. Prior to the arrival of Garda Reilly and the garda who drove her to the scene, Garda Ward, the coward witnessed Aga shout the words: “Duffy's circus,” twice. After this two more gardaí pulled up in a car close to Aga's position.
Immediately upon the arrival of the car, Mark McFerran stuck his head in the passenger-side window, handed a leaflet to Garda Reilly and engaged in a conversation with her. This leaflet contained propaganda about the protesters, it also contained an allegation that the protesters were abusing and threatening members of the public. Garda Reilly, testified that Mark McFerran did not make a complaint to her and that she didn't make a record of any verbal complaint from the circus manager in her notebook.
The two gardaí then got out of the car. Garda Ward approached Mr Edmund Long, who was close to Aga and began to investigate the complaint that had brought the gardaí to the scene. This investigation began and ended with the Garda demanding Mr Long's details.
Garda Reilly followed the circus manager away from Aga and the three protesters who were close to her. It is possible that Garda Reilly might have heard the following words before she began to abuse three Spanish ladies: “Please Boycott Duffy's circus and any other animal circus.” These words were not uttered by the three Spanish ladies, they came from another lady who was situated close to them. In other words, Garda Reilly didn't hear the Spanish ladies say anything to any member of the public. This did not stop Garda Reilly from accusing the three of “shouting and roaring at young kids” and of calling them “animal abusers.”
The belligerent Garda Reilly then made her way back down towards Aga and the others where she accused them of a public disturbance. At this point, she had not heard Aga speak at all. Reilly and Ward both testified that the activists were engaging in threatening and abusive behaviour from the moment they arrived – a very blatant fabrication. Reilly also approached the high fence that separated the protesters from the circus and members of the public where she spoke to one Stephanie Duffy, the wife of the circus owner. Aga tried to calm the situation down by asking Garda Reilly to observe her behaviour as she protested. Garda Reilly finally agreed to this and stepped back from Aga, still facing her, with her back to the circus. Aga then shouted the following: “Duffy's circus is an animal abuser. Please, if you care about animals, don't support this cruelty. They suffer. They suffer during the training, they suffer during the transportation, they spend their whole lives in cages or performing stupid tricks. All this cruelty, just to entertain you.” When Aga reached the word “cages,” Garda Reilly turned, approached Stephanie Duffy and spoke to her. Stephanie Duffy pointed towards Aga, and the Garda, like an obedient lap dog, immediately walked back over to Aga and threatened to arrest her, telling her that she'd have “no problem” in doing so.
At this time, Garda Ward came over to Aga, having done his bit for fascism with Mr Long. Mr Long had been directed to leave the area under Section 8 of the Public Order Act for engaging in threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour, under Section 6 of the Act. Despite the fact that the gardaí had not witnessed Ed say anything whatsoever to any member of the public. Anyway, this garda demanded Aga's details as part of his 'investigation.' And both he and Aga moved away from Garda Reilly and went to where Aga had stored her bag, so that she could identify herself to this rights abuser. When he had satisfied himself as to Aga's identity and her address, he moved on to make demands on the three Spanish ladies, who'd said nothing whatsoever to any member of the public (indeed they faced the road and not the circus the whole time) in his or any other garda's presence and who would continue to say nothing until the protest ended, immediately after Ms Chojnacka's arrest. As he demanded details from the three ladies, who had very poor English, Ms Gloria Bartolome attempted to translate his demands into Spanish for the three. He ordered her away under Section 8 of the Public Order Act for interfering with him. The gardaí ended up not taking the details of the Spanish ladies, due to communications difficulties, it would seem.
Aga, in the meantime, had gone back to protesting, close to the coward, who offered a sarcastic counterpoint to the young lady by suggesting that the tigers and animals in the circus should be thrown out onto the road. Garda Reilly again approached Aga and began to abuse her. She stopped this abuse briefly to approach Gloria, to demand that she leave the area as she had been ordered. As she did so, she waved the rolled up piece of circus propaganda in the activist's face. Gloria asked her to stop this, saying that it was intimidating and she agreed to leave the area. After telling the Garda that there was no need to be so rude, Gloria asked Garda Reilly if she might retrieve her jumper. Reilly told her to take all her “rubbish” with her and can be heard to giggle as the outraged activist leaves the area. She then returned to continue her abuse of Aga.
Aga walked away from the fuming and blustering garda in search of an activist with a camera to make sure the abuse she was putting up with was filmed. She first approached Mr Tom McSherry, a very calm man under pressure, who was being harassed by Garda Ward. Ward informed Aga that he was dealing with the gentleman and he told her not to interfere. Aga then approached Elin Bjerding, her friend and made sure that she was filming.
Garda Reilly repeatedly asked Aga if she was going to follow her lawful order, under Section 8 of the Public Order Act. Aga replied “yes.” And the Garda demanded that she leave immediately. Aga quite rightly refused to do so “no.” After all, the garda was not making a lawful demand. Aga repeatedly asked the garda to tell her what it was that she had done that facilitated the garda in making the demand under Section 8 of the Act. The garda failed to do so and simply continued to roar and shout at the calm activist, demanding that she leave.
Garda Reilly failed to tell Aga that refusal or failure to comply with a lawful direction of a garda was a criminal offence (extra to the Section 6 offence of threatening, insulting or abusive behaviour, that had been the substance of the complaint that brought the gardaí to the scene). The garda failed to inform Aga of the penalties associated with a Section 8 offence, should the activist be convicted of same. And the garda failed to inform her of the penalties associated with a Section 6 offence.
Aga then, having had enough of Garda Reilly's crap, walked back over to the coward. She demanded to know what law she was breaking and informed him that she would not be silenced. The coward agreed that Aga might continue her protest but warned that he'd be back if there was another complaint. At this point, Garda Reilly informed Aga that she was being arrested under the powers given to her by Section 24 of the Public Order Act. Aga pointed out to Reilly that the coward, who'd been the first garda on the scene, had agreed that she should be allowed to stay and continue her protest. Reilly informed Aga that she too was a garda while she gently patted the coward on the shoulder. The coward, true to his nature, immediately cycled off, without looking at Aga. The activist was cuffed and placed in the waiting car.
The coward briefly returned as the activist was lead away, to repeat his earlier attempt at witticism, regarding the throwing of the circus animals on to the road. Nobody had responded to him the first time around, so he must have concluded that nobody had heard his brilliance. Nobody responded to this pathetic creature this time either, so he slithered away once more, his need for attention unsatiated. There's hope for the coward though, I'm very sure that the High Court will recognise him for what he is, when Aga takes the Garda Commissioner to the cleaners.
The court case was brilliant. Agnieszka grilled Reilly on the Stand for over an hour. The garda couldn't describe any behaviour of the gutsy activist that was threatening, abusive or insulting. She hadn't recorded and couldn't remeber any words that were threatening, abusive or insulting. Even when prompted with the words that were used by Aga and the others, the Garda failed to identify any threat, insult or abuse. The garda had to very reluctantly agree that the signs and banners that the activists had displayed had not been confiscated, neither had there been any issue with them, despite, as Aga pointed out, the fact that they contained essentially the same messages that the activists were attempting to convey verbally to members of the public. The garda in one rare moment of inspiration (or despair) asked Aga if she had a problem with the definition of the word “threatening.” The activist, without skipping a beat, told her that she had, and that she'd be grateful if the garda could define if for the Court and show how it related to her words and behaviour on the day in question. Needless to say, the garda was unable to do so. For a finish we were left with the garda repeating her nonsense mantra: that she believed that Aga's behaviour on the day might occasion a breach of the peace – which is of course, mere opinion evidence, which has no place in the District Court when given by a non-expert witness like Reilly.
One particular phrase that Reilly used, when repeatedly poked by Aga to tell the Court if she'd had concerns for any of the children that she'd accused activists of “abusing” and “shouting and roaring at,” was the phrase: “in the backside of my mind.” A very good phrase, I thought to myself. It just about described where each and every action of the garda on the day originated from: The arsehole in her head.
When asked if she could remember telling Ms Bartolome to take her “rubbish” with her and giggling as she left, Garda Reilly answered that she could not remember doing so, but could not be pushed by Aga into denying it.
Aga quizzed the garda who had taken wringing her hands and grimacing, about the section 24 charge (false name and address). The Garda, who could no longer even look at the judge as she gave evidence, as he'd had occasion to shout at her on the odd occasion or three, agreed that she'd not given a false name. She couldn't recall either, as to when she'd allegedly made the demand for Aga give her details, other than to say that it was prior to the arrest. Aga helped the distraught garda out at this point by reminding the garda that she'd demanded details from the young lady, when she was lying on the floor of Clontarf Garda station, with Reilly standing over her and screaming: “What's your fucking address!” The Charge Sheet of course claimed that Reilly had made the demand for details at the scene and prior to the arrest.
Another point, so that the ignorant might be educated. Reilly informed the Court that Aga had been offered an alult caution and that she'd refused it. This might well have been the case. And if it was, it's just another example of Reilly's and her superior's incompetence. The fact that there was a section 24 charge meant that Aga did not qualify for such a caution.
Garda Reilly was stupid enough to bring her buddy, Garda Ward, the driver of the car with her as a witness (it's a pity she didn't bring the coward too). Aga objected to this as she had no notice that this garda would be a witness and had no summary of his evidence. Judge Blake informed Aga that he wanted to hear this witness. But what the heck. It facilitated Aga in opening Garda Reilly's precis (summary of evidence) to the Judge. The precis being a true work of art. And it facilitated Ms Chojnacka in finishing Garda Reilly's Section 24 charge off with a smooth and efficient coup de grace. When the garda had finished repeating some of the swill that Reilly had attempted to fob off on the Court, Aga asked him if he'd demanded her details. He arrogantly replied that he had, giving the impression that he thought that he'd scored a point. Aga dismissed him (Reilly tried to cross examine her own witness at this point and was savaged by the Judge) and made an application to the Court to dismiss the Section 24 charge, stating that just about every piece of information on the charge sheet did not agree with the facts, as presented by the gardaí in evidence to the Court (in this instance, Reilly was not the garda who'd made the demand, as the charge sheet claimed).
The Judge then asked Aga if she had any other applications to make. She replied that she didn't, “at this time.” The judge, whom I suspect was sick of the whole sorry mess and who didn't want to have to sit through lots of video, and witness evidence, told the defendant, that now was the time to do so. One of the witnesses, Elin Bjerding, who was essential, to authenticate some of the video evidence amongst other things, had been flown in from Sweden at Aga's expense, for the third time, to give testimony. Agnieszka, who really wanted to display the video evidence and have her witnesses heard, reluctantly made an application to have the remaining, Section 6 and Section 8 charges struck out. Judge Blake, after giving the cringing and fawning Garda Reilly a piece of his mind, struck both charges, relying on Aga's right to have charges explained to her and the consequences of them, should she be found guilty. He named Galligan and Mulligan (and another one, that I didn't catch) as being cases that set precedent for this. Aga in preparing the closing argument that she didn't get to make, also went into Galligan, amongst a plethora of others.
Only the charge for failing to appear, in violation of Aga's bail conditions remained. She'd spent two days in garda custody on foot of a bench warrant over this. A very pleasent gentleman, Garda Donal O'Neill, gave evidence on this. When examined by Aga he agreed that the failure to appear had been a genuine and honest mistake. This did not change after I as her McKenzie Friend who has accompanied her on each of her many visits to the court in relation to this case, gave evidence, or after Aga gave evidence. His affable manner was both refreshing and encouraging and he has our gratitude for it. Judge Blake gave Ms Chojnacka the benefit of the doubt and struck the final charge.
It was a battle that lasted about an hour and a half. At the end of it, all that was left, to plagiarise Deep Purple, was “smoke on the water.”
More Court cases from this group:
Garda Ward takes Aga's details
The coward runs away as Reilly arrests Aga