A JUDGE has slated Garda authorities after hearing they could now bring internal disciplinary proceedings against an officer after successfully prosecuting him for stealing a tax disc from his station and fraudulently using it on his own car.
At Dublin District Court today, Judge Hugh O'Donnell said the tax disc was worthless by the time charges were brought against Tallaght based Garda Damien Dempsey.
He compared the possibility of him having to face disciplinary proceedings to “double jeopardy” and threatened to throw out the case against the garda who has told the court that he barely had enough money to feed himself.
The 44-year-old officer, who has more than 20 years' service, had admitted not having his '01-reg Lexus car taxed. However, he had pleaded not guilty to not having motor insurance, fraudulently using the stolen tax disc on his vehicle on April 23 last and theft of the disc between July 12 last year and April 23 this year, but he was found guilty by Judge O'Donnell following a hearing last Monday.
When the case resumed today Judge O'Donnell said the tax disc was worthless and added that there is a facility in An Garda Siochana to bring a disciplinary action against an officer. “It was obviously decided by someone not to use it,” he said.
He also said that if the case had involved a courier firm and its employee he did not think a prosecution would have been brought.
As a result of the prosecution, Gda Dempsey “had his name spread all over the papers and his character has been tarnished”, the judge said. “I am told he is a garda with 20 plus years of service with commendations, I do not know why it was chosen to go this route,” the judge said.
He indicated that he would apply the Probation Act in respect of the theft charge, at which point defence counsel Miceal O'Connor pointed out that the case will still result in his client facing disciplinary proceedings.
In reply, Judge O'Donnell said he believed that would be improper; he then asked “is it going to happen?” before saying that he will strike out the case if the officer faces disciplinary proceedings following the conclusion of the court case.
Inspector George McGeary told the judge that there were provisions for garda members to face both internal disciplinary proceedings as well as prosecution in court.
“That is double jeopardy,” replied the judge, who added that it would be “inherently unfair and unjust”. He stressed that he was not critical of Inspector McGeary but was of the system.
The judge then demanded an undertaking that there would be no disciplinary action taken against Gda Dempsey which Inspector McGeary said has unable to give. The judge then agreed to defer finalising the case to allow an officer from the Garda disciplinary section to come to court to deal with this issue.
Earlier, Judge O'Donnell had been told the stolen tax disc was meant for an official garda motorcycle and had been kept on file in the office of Sergeant Ronan Lawlor. But it went missing in July last year and an investigation was launched when it was found last April in a bin at the station.
In an interview with a Garda Inspector, Gda Dempsey admitted that what he had done was wrong and stupid but “theft never entered my head”. When he realised a Garda inspector was investigating the theft “it it me like a ton of bricks” he said in his interview.
The officer, who has no prior criminal convictions, had worked in the drugs area of community policing in Tallaght, the court heard.
He told Judge O'Donnell that his marriage had broken down three years ago and he was left paying a mortgage and other loans – totalling €2,500 a month – on his own. He has enjoyed being a garda and said he never intended it to be a theft.
He told Judge O'Donnell he had been unable to get rid of the car and that it was kept parked at all times at the Plaza complex car park in Tallaght.
“Word got out there was going to be spot checks,” he said, before adding “I did not have money for it, barely have the money to feed myself.”
He took the disc from his sergeant's office when the tax ran out on his own car which he claimed he left parked up at all times.
He said he was not “in the right place mentally” and suffered from financial stress and anxiety, and ulcers.
He said he wanted to sell his Lexus, “I bought it in the good times, couldn't get rid of it.”
Defence counsel Miceal O'Connor has pleaded with the judge for leniency and said his client was a man with a future ahead of him and had co-operated with investigation but the prosecution could have serious implications for him.