Friday 30 September 2016

Jobstown protest was like a 'rugby maul', Det Inspector tells court

Tom Tuite

Published 20/09/2016 | 17:55

Joan Burton
Joan Burton

A GARDA inspector has told a trial it was like a "rugby maul" when he tried to escort the then Tanaiste Joan Burton through an angry crowd at the Jobstown water protest.

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A 17-year-old boy denies falsely imprisoning Joan Burton (67) and her political advisor Karen O'Connell during the water protest at the Fortunestown Road in Jobstown in Tallaght, Dublin, on Nov. 15, 2014. He was aged 15 at the time and cannot be named because he is still a minor.

The former Labour leader and Minister for Social Protection had been attending a graduation event at 11.30 am at An Cosan adult education centre.

It is alleged trouble broke out and she and her entourage were trapped in cars surrounded by protesters for about three hours.

Prosecution barrister Tony McGillicuddy has said that the prosecution case is that the former Tanaiste and her advisor Ms O'Connell were detained by the actions of the teenage defendant in conjunction with the actions of others.

The non-jury trial resumed before Judge John King at the Dublin Children's Court on Tuesday.

Det Inspector Derek Maguire, who was attached to Rathfarnham station, gave evidence and told the court he was with Joan Burton and other gardai as they tried to force their way from An Cosan to the nearby St Thomas's Church for the second part of the graduation ceremony.

He said there were 10 to 15 protesters but the crowd got bigger and it became more difficult to walk on the footpath. “I was standing to the right of the Tanaiste and her progress was impeded and then she got hit with some kind of object in the head. It was thrown from behind and hit her on the back right of her head,” he said.

He said she was hit with a water balloon and she was called a traitor.

“We forced our way on the footpath with great difficulty. The number of protesters appeared to increase and with great difficulty we got to the gate of St Thomas's Church. At that point some of the protesters stopped at the gates and we had freer movement," he said.

He said the Tanaiste went into the church and he spoke to her advisor Karen O'Connell and her official Garda driver Barry Martin. He said he noticed that outside the church the number of people gathering was increasing and "seemed to be getting larger and larger". He contacted a superior to request extra gardai.

He told Karen O'Connell it would be better to leave at this point because the number of protesters was "too big at this point".

More gardai came and parked an unmarked Garda car outside the church; they intended to use it to take Joan Burton and Ms O'Connell away.

Det Inspector Maguire told the court that the protesters then noticed the unmarked garda car.

He said it was then decided to instead use another unmarked garda drugs unit car which he knew was at the side of the church and out of view. At 12.30 pm he left the church with Karen O'Connell, the Tanaiste and two gardai.  He said Joan Burton and her advisor got into the back of the car.

"The protesters observed what was happening and ran to this car and surrounded the back of this car," he said.

He told the court the unmarked car was parked facing the church and they tried to reverse out but protesters surrounded it very quickly and they were unable to get out. He said he created a cordon of  gardai around the car to protect the people inside.

He said an effort was made to move the protesters but they dropped to the ground and sat down. It was impossible to move the car without causing injuries to someone, he said.

He told the court he got more concerned for the people in the car and called for extra assistance. "We tried to move them and create a barrier between us and them to reverse the car out, it was impossible given the numbers," he said.

He said they were shouting and shaking the car and trying to cover the windows with placards. The garda driver managed to open his window for two inches and Inspector Maguire said " I tried to reassure the occupants we would get them out of there as soon as possible".

He said he attempted to talk to one protester who he thought was orchestrating the demonstration but the man refused to converse with him. He said he directed them under the Public Order Act to desist but "none of them would comply with that direction at all".

He said the teenage defendant had a loud hailer and was shouting at the crowd to block the car and another man was also doing that at the back of the car.

He said he distinctly recalled the teenager had a blue hooded top and grey tracksuit bottoms. He described the crowd as very aggressive and said there was lots of “vitriol”. He said abuse was shouted and there was a “very uneasy feeling, a lot of tension in the air”. He said a lot of objects were being thrown and gardai were struck with eggs.

He said a lot of the protesters had mobile phones including the defendant who was using one to film the events and “appeared to be pointing the phone quite close to our faces”. He said this went on for over an hour.

He said his colleagues formed a human cordon around the car until assistance from other garda units as well as the Air Support Unit arrived. It was decided that it was a better option to try to move the Labour TD to a garda jeep which was parked nearby.

Gardai formed two lines and moved Joan Burton and her advisor from the car towards the jeep. It was a distance of 30 yards and the crowd converged on them, he said.

“It was like a rugby maul,” he told the court. He said that Joan Burton's shoe came off and there was “pure aggression”.

It took seven to 10 minutes to walk the 30 yards to the jeep where Joan Burton got into the back seat, he said.

He told the court the jeep was then surrounded by protesters and its front windscreen was smashed by one of them.

He said that for a third time he asked them to desist and move away from the jeep. “No one would listen and no one would comply”, he said.

A protester was shouting slogans, chants and songs through a loud hailer, he said. The man he thought was the orchestrator was talking to other people about a slow march towards the Jobstown Inn 300 yards away.

A Garda public order unit was called to assist and arrived at 2.30pm. Det Inspector Maguire said that 15 minutes later the public order unit tried to move them from the side of the jeep. He said this seemed to have made them more aggressive and resistant and it seemed that more protesters were arriving at this point as well.

Various missile were being thrown at the jeep and at gardai, he said.

One of the protesters said that if the public order unit were removed they would slow march. The public order unit moved to the side of the road but remained in close proximity and the jeep carrying the Tanaiste and her advisor started moving again. Some one shouted "would they let her go?" and they started moving at approximately 3pm. It took 45 minutes to get to the N81 which was 100 yards away. He alleged that protesters said they would walk her, for three or four miles, out of Tallaght.

A cordon of gardai remained around the jeep as it reached a wider section or road. Protesters were still in front and at the side of the jeep when gardai had an opportunity to get Joan Burton out the back door and move her to an unmarked garda car which pulled up behind them. They then managed to take her away from the scene and Karen O'Connell was driven away in a different car.

He said that the protesters tried to block those cars but gardai managed to clear the road “and they got away from the scene”. It was day two of the trial which resumes today/tomorrow (WED).

On Monday Joan Burton and Karen O'Connell gave evidence and said that they were frightened and did not think they it was safe to get out of a car. They alleged that vulgar abuse was being shouted at them and the Ms Burton said the teenager was present. Ms Burton alleged there was an "air of extreme hostility" at the protest.

Throughout the hearing the teenager, who was accompanied to court by his mother and his legal team, has sat quietly taking his own notes and consulting with his solicitor and barristers.

Protesters condemning the trial returned for a second day and waited outside the courthouse in Smithfield while messages of support online poured in from all round the world including people in Seattle, Berlin, Stockholm, Brussels, Edinburgh and other locations.

There was also legal argument on Tuesday in relation to video footage the prosecution wanted show as evidence.

Giollaoisa O Lideadha SC, defending, applied for the trial to be aborted, however, Judge King refused saying a concern to him  was that the youth will turn 18 in the new year. He said that it was essential to expedite the trial so he is dealt with as a juvenile.

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