A GARDA sergeant has been cleared of sexually assaulting a female colleague who had claimed he groped her before telling her, "I'd say you're some screamer in bed".
Gda Sgt Martin Woods (49) had pleaded not guilty to a sexual assault charge but had been convicted and fined €1,000 following a hearing at Dublin District Court last March.
The sergeant, who has 29 years' service in An Garda Síochána, then lodged an appeal to the Circuit Court in Dublin aimed at over-turning that conviction.
Today the appeal was heard and Judge Terrence O'Sullivan held that his conviction should be quashed as there was insufficient evidence that the manner in which he touched the officer constituted an act of indecency and the remark said to her afterwards could have been interpreted a kind joke comment.
The woman told the appeal court that on a date in June 2010 she had been at work and was returning a camera to a wall-mounted cabinet in an office in a Dublin garda station. The cabinet was located behind the sergeant's desk and she moved into a two-foot gap beside the sergeant who was working on a computer facing forwards.
She claimed she stood beside him as there was no room to get behind him.
The woman alleged that she leaned towards the cabinet and stretched out one arm and was standing on one leg to reach it when the sergeant “raised his right hand and grabbed the inside of my right upper thigh”. She added that he grabbed her inches from her genital area.
She was in tears as she said that she “screamed at the top of her voice”. She claimed that the incident lasted a couple of seconds, “I was hopping on one leg, it felt like he was holding me for an eternity.”
The woman wept as she told the court that she hit him and felt shocked. “I was disgusted, angry and felt dirty,” she said. The woman also alleged that when she left his office the sergeant walked up to her at the doorway and said “I would say you are some screamer in bed”. The officer also said the sergeant later apologised to her.
When she went home she noticed a bruise where she claimed she had been touched.
In cross-examination with defence counsel John Ferry, she rejected suggestions that the sergeant touched her “much lower down” and that it had been a joke or she was mistaken in her interpretation of the events.
“What gives him the right to touch me whether it is a joke or a playful matter? Why should he touch me in the first place?”, she answered.
When further questioned she said she managed to replace the camera in the cabinet. Two other gardai on duty at the time told the court they did not see what happened but heard the woman scream. One said she appeared gob-smacked and stunned when she came out of the office and the sergeant then whispered something to her.
After the State finished presenting it's case, Mr Ferry submitted that his client did not have a case to answer.
He argued that the prosecution needed to establish that the touching of the officer was an indecent act and there was an intention of indecency.
Judge O'Sullivan said he found it difficult to understand how the woman managed to replace the camera by stretching out in the manner she described. “If the sergeant was able to reach and grapple with the inner part of her right thigh I doubt she could have managed that”.
The evidence that she was allegedly touched close to her genital area was not sufficient to establish there was an indecent element to the incident. The remark made to her came afterwards and while it was “not a nice comment”, “it could have been made in a jocose fashion”, the judge said.
He held that there was no evidence that there was intention on the part of the sergeant in the circumstances outlined to constitute an indecent assault.
The judge allowed the appeal, quashing the sexual assault conviction after which the sergeant hugged his partner and family members who had watched the proceedings from the public gallery.