Monday 26 September 2016

Man allegedly assaulted by two gardai during Shell to Sea protest, court hears

Published 29/04/2015 | 18:21

Martin and Patrick O'Donnell (L) and Patrick Coyle (R)
Martin and Patrick O'Donnell (L) and Patrick Coyle (R)

A MAN was allegedly assaulted by two gardai during during a protest over the Shell Corrib gas field in Co Mayo, a High Court jury has been told.

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One officer punched the man in the face before another garda, who was the father of the first officer, struck him on the head in "unprovoked assaults", the court heard.  The claims are denied.

There was garda "indiscipline, brutality and excessive force" during the protest and unprovoked assaults were perpetrated on three local men by gardai, counsel for the three said.

There was also an “unexplained” and “mysterious” gap in a garda video recording of the protest, Micheál P. O'Higgins SC added.

He was opening separate civil actions by Patrick Coyle, a farmer, Barnatra, Ballina, and brothers Patrick O’Donnell and Martin O’Donnell, Shore, Porturlin, Ballina, both fishermen, over the alleged assaults.

The three cases are being heard together before Mr Justice Paul McDermott and a jury.

The men have sued the Garda Commissioner and the State for damages arising from alleged assaults on them during a protest near the Shell refinery on January 19, 2007.

Outlining the case, Mr O'Higgins said the assaults occurred when a "large number" of gardai were dealing with a protest involving about 80 people near Bellanaboy bridge as a convoy of workers and others approached the Shell refinery sometime after 7.30am.

Patrick Coyle was punched in the face by  Garda Marvin Lee as Mr Coyle was holding on to another protester whom a Sergeant had directed should be removed from the protest, counsel said.

The jury would be satisfied the Garda who punched Mr Coyle was Garda Marvin Lee, an "accomplished boxer", counsel said.

As Mr Coyle was turning away from the gardai and into the crowd, Garda Patrick Lee, also an accomplished boxer and father of Marvin Lee, struck Mr Coyle a blow to the head, counsel said.

That was a "forceful strike" and Mr Coyle fell to the ground.

Counsel said the gardai denied the claims and it would be for the jury to decide whether they believed his clients’ accounts of what happened or preferred those of the gardai.

Among factors to be taken into account was that none of the gardai allegedly involved experienced injuries while his clients had clear injuries, particularly facial injuries, counsel said.

A Garda video recording of the protest also appeared to have stopped for some seven minutes at the very time it was alleged the assaults had occurred, counsel added.

After the assault, Mr Coyle's forehead, nose and lip were bleeding, his front tooth was loosened and he was treated at Mayo General Hospital, counsel outlined. He suffered neck pain and bruising and was very distressed after the incident.

Martin O’Donnell needed suturing of his right eye for a laceration and also suffered an injury to his cheek, neck pain and discomfort, distress and upset, counsel said.

His brother Patrick suffered injuries to his nose, headaches, signs of soft tissue bruising, pain and discomfort in his lower back and his dental bridge was also broken, counsel said.

Further injustice was inflicted on his clients because of "tactics" employed by gardai after their solicitor complained about the incident to the authorities, he said.

In evidence, Patrick Coyle said he became involved in regular protests against the Shell project due to his concerns over health and safety issues, including having a high pressure pipeline going through a residential area.

He said he was hit on January 19, 2007, by a Garda whose number he had immediately said out loud and whom he now knew to be Garda Marvin Lee.

He believed he was later hit by Garda Patrick Lee because of having said Marvin Lee's number out loud.

He was later prosecuted for assault arising out of the incident and cleared of all charges, Mr Coyle said.

Under cross-examination, he denied a suggestion Garda Marvin Lee was dragged through the protesters and that he, Mr Coyle, engaged with others in assaulting Garda Lee. That account was "completely false", he said.

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