Sunday 26 March 2017

Judge directs jury to clear welfare officer of coercion in sex act case

Judge Keenan Johnson at Sligo Circuit Court directed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty of coercion after ruling that the prosecution had not established that the complainant had been intimidated. Stock photo
Judge Keenan Johnson at Sligo Circuit Court directed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty of coercion after ruling that the prosecution had not established that the complainant had been intimidated. Stock photo

Marese McDonagh

A 48-year-old Department of Social Protection official has been found not guilty of coercion after being accused of asking a woman for oral sex in return for avoiding a fraud prosecution.

Judge Keenan Johnson at Sligo Circuit Court directed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty of coercion after ruling that the prosecution had not established that the complainant had been intimidated.

He stressed that he was making no determination on the truthfulness of either the accused, Andrew Gilmartin of Drumfad, Grange, Co Sligo, or the complainant, Martha Rooney of Colleary Drive, Sligo.

She had alleged that the defendant asked her for oral sex in return for her not being prosecuted for fraud during an interview at the social welfare offices in Sligo on April 9, 2014.

Ms Rooney wept as Judge Johnson delivered his ruling.

Mr Gilmartin said he would be making no comment as he left the courthouse. He was charged with intimidating Ms Rooney with a view to compelling her to do an act which she had a lawful right to abstain from doing.

Judge Johnson told the jury that the prosecution had to prove that there was intimidation of the complainant by Mr Gilmartin.

"I am satisfied that she was distressed and upset but there is no evidence that she was frightened or overawed," Judge Johnson said.

Interview

He noted that Ms Rooney had the presence of mind to unlock the interview room door, and to tell Mr Gilmartin that she had taped the interview, even though she had not.

He said these were "hardly the actions of a person who was frightened or overawed".

Ms Rooney had told the court that she attended the social welfare offices after getting a letter from the authorities about the fact that she had been working while claiming lone parent's allowance.

She said the accused became angry after she admitted she was also attending the National Learning Network, and had asked her what she would do for him.

The defendant, who admitted using bad language and being "unprofessional", denied that he said this.

Judge Johnson said that given Ms Rooney's evidence that she had been "economical with the truth" when filling up her lone parent's allowance form and given the absence of corroboration, a jury could not but have a reasonable doubt and would therefore have to return a not-guilty verdict.

"In making that determination I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not making any findings in relation to the veracity of either the complainant Ms Rooney or the accused Mr Gilmartin," said Judge Johnson. "I am merely undertaking my judicial function which is to interpret the law."

The judge added that there had been other avenues open to Ms Rooney, who could have made a complaint to the department but had not.

Irish Independent

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