Friday 18 August 2017

Jobstown: The questions

Joan Burton Photo: Tom Burke
Joan Burton Photo: Tom Burke

Andrew Phelan and Philip Ryan

The disputed evidence: Inconsistencies in accounts by gardai of the events at the Jobstown protest proved to be a major weakness in the prosecution's case during the trial.

That weakness was fully exploited by the defendants' lawyers, who characterised what was said as "inaccurate, incomplete or misleading", and in one case, accused a garda of "deliberately falsifying" evidence. The discrepancies seized upon by the defence were mainly between the witness testimony given by individual gardai and the video footage from various sources that was shown to the court. Elsewhere, differences between the oral evidence and statements given by the officers were also highlighted.

With a Garda review now under way into the policing response to the protest and subsequent investigation, and after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar suggested evidence in the trial needs to be "examined", a number of key disputed points will come under the spotlight.

'Will we let her go?'

One of the most hotly contested pieces of evidence, and one which Paul Murphy TD has quoted in the Dail since his acquittal, was a garda allegation that he addressed the Jobstown crowd on a loudhailer, saying "will we let her go, or will we keep her here all night?" This was stated in evidence by Superintendent Daniel Flavin and two other gardai during the trial. Supt Flavin asserted that matters became more difficult after the TD asked the crowd would they "keep her there all night" because the response was "in effect, to keep her here". He was cross-examined at length on this by Mr Murphy's barrister, Sean Guerin SC, who said Supt Flavin's recollection of what was said was "incomplete" and misleading. When the video was played back, Supt Flavin conceded there was "a lot more conversation". Mr Guerin said Mr Murphy had been saying to the crowd that there were two options and one of them was "keeping her here". He did not use the words "keep her here all night", Mr Guerin said; instead that suggestion came from a woman in the crowd.

Meanwhile, Garda Jonathan Ryan told the jury there was a "unanimous decision" in a vote by the crowd to keep Joan Burton and her adviser Karen O'Connell trapped at the scene and that Paul Murphy "appeared very, very pleased with this", "enjoying himself" and "smiling and chuckling away". However, video footage of the vote showed Paul Murphy and Cllr Michael Murphy voting to march Ms Burton's car out of the area, while the majority of the crowd voted to keep Ms Burton there. Garda Ryan admitted he did not remember everything, but insisted he saw Paul Murphy "smiling and laughing" during the vote.

Video footage

Garda Gavin Cooke came in for some of the most rigorous cross-examination on his evidence. Garda Cooke had been the driver of the first vehicle - an unmarked Garda Toyota Avensis - in which the two women remained for about an hour at the local church He described seeing Paul Murphy on a loudhailer "doing different things" and when cross-examined, elaborated that Mr Murphy was "directing people" where to stand in the grounds of the church. But Mr Guerin said CCTV footage "gave the lie" to this evidence and showed the garda was not even in the church grounds for most of the time Mr Murphy was there.

He accused Garda Cooke of telling the jury he saw something that "couldn't have happened". He said the garda had also given evidence of Mr Murphy "directing people" in a separate trial of a different Jobstown defendant in the district court.

Garda Cooke then "toned down" his evidence for the circuit court trial, Mr Guerin claimed.

"That's not true," Garda Cooke replied, insisting that he gave a true statement and has always spoken the truth in court.

'Sanctuary'

Garda Lorna Loughney said she heard Cllr Michael Murphy referring to Joan Burton during the protest, saying: "Will we give her sanctuary in the church?" Garda Loughney said her impression was that these were questions being directed by Cllr Murphy to other people in the crowd.

But after video footage was shown to the court, Raymond Comyn SC, defending, said there was no question but that Cllr Murphy was shouting to the gardai with a suggestion on how to deal with the situation. Mr Comyn also put it to Garda Loughney that she was wrong when she said she saw Cllr Murphy on the loudhailer outside the church. Garda Loughney agreed the footage did not show Cllr Murphy holding the loudhailer at any point.

Evidence

Sergeant Michael Phelan told the jury that after the Avensis was surrounded, he saw one of the accused, Scott Masterson, "striking the boot with two open hands". But Mr Masterson's defence lawyer, Roisin Lacey SC, said none of the video footage corroborated Sgt Phelan's account of Mr Masterson striking the car.

Garda Michelle McGuinness, who was in the Avensis, maintained rocks were among some of the "missiles" thrown at the car.

But after it was pointed out to her that she did not mention rocks in her statement, she said she had made an error in omitting it. Defence barrister Michael O'Higgins SC put it to her that the reason rocks were not in the statement was because "it didn't happen". She replied that this was not correct.

Tactics

Inspector Derek Maguire denied there was an agreement with Paul Murphy to pull back the Garda public order unit, saying it was a Garda decision as the tactic had not worked.

Mr Guerin put it to Insp Maguire that he agreed under oath during a previous court hearing that there was an agreement with Mr Murphy that the public order unit would withdraw and the slow march would continue. The inspector said he did not recall saying there was an agreement.

Presiding Judge Melanie Greally did not criticise the gardai but said the video footage was independent and not subject to the "frailties of human memory".All the gardai involved in the case strongly denied giving untruthful evidence.

Social Media

Serious concerns have been raised over the use of social media by hard-left politicians and their supporters during the trial. Testimony given by witnesses, including former Tanaiste Joan Burton and gardai, was openly questioned online while the court case was being heard.

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy removed posts from his Twitter page after he was warned by the DPP.

The DPP

It was argued after the trial that the false imprisonment charge brought against Mr Murphy and the six other co-defendants was excessive.

It has been suggested the DPP was not able to charge protesters with a lesser public order offence because the Garda investigation was not completed with the six-month statute of limitation.

The Media

There have been criticisms of media outlets for giving far-left TDs platforms to make unsubstantiated claims of a garda conspiracy against those before the courts over the Jobstown protest.

Sunday Independent

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