Saturday 22 October 2016

Schoolboy told gardai he was sorry for stress he caused Joan Burton, court hears

Published 21/09/2016 | 22:19

Protesters during the trial of a 17-year-old for false imprisonment at The Childrens Court in Smithfield, Dublin and inset Joan Burton
Protesters during the trial of a 17-year-old for false imprisonment at The Childrens Court in Smithfield, Dublin and inset Joan Burton

A SCHOOLBOY accused of false imprisonment of former Tanaiste Joan Burton during the Jobstown protest told arresting gardai he was sorry for taking part and for the stress he caused her.

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The 17-year-old boy denies falsely imprisoning the former Labour leader and her advisor Karen O'Connell who were allegedly trapped in two garda cars for three hours during the demonstration at the Fortunestown Road in Jobstown in Tallaght, on Nov. 15, 2014.

He was aged 15 at the time and has been on trial all week at the Dublin Children's Court.

The Dublin west TD has told the court she was frightened and did not think she had the alternative of being able to get out of Garda cars surrounded by people shouting abuse and banging on windows.

The State closed its case this evening and the boy's barrister Giollaoisa O Lideadha SC has asked Judge John King to return a verdict of not guilty based on the prosecution evidence, the meaning of false imprisonment and the right to protest.

Judge King will consider written submission from the boy's lawyers and replies from prosecuting counsel Tony McGillicuddy BL. The case was adjourned until Friday to set dates for the resumption of the trial.

The hearing resumed for its third day on Wednesday when Judge John King was shown video footage of the protest. The clips were obtained from YouTube, RTE and a garda 4X4 which at one point had been blocked while carrying the former Minister for Social Protection and her advisor Ms O'Connell. Some people were seen chanting slogans while others were hurling abuse at the former Tanaiste and jostling with gardai.

The court also heard details of teen's arrest in February last year when he was detained at Tallaght Garda station to be questioned. His statement was read into the court's record.

Garda Damian Reilly said the boy was questioned in the presence of his mother and he declined to have a solicitor present. He was told he was being questioned in connection with a false imprisonment charge and he said he understood.

CCTV footage and photos were shown to him and he identified himself. He admitted at some stages he had been holding a megaphone. It was put to him that he had appeared angry in footage but he did not think so. He said the megaphone was not his but he “was holding it for a lady who was telling people to to stop launching stuff in the crowd”. He said he people had been throwing eggs and other objects.

He identified himself in footage doing a “slow march” but added that he did not engage in a sit down protest. “I believe I was influenced by others to say sit down and then slow march out of the area,” he also told Garda Reilly. Asked who influenced him he replied “I cannot remember it was year.”

In the next question put, he was asked if he was under duress to sit down and he replied “No”. It was put to him that he could be seen instructing the crowd but he denied being a leader or organiser of the demonstration. He said he found out about it online.

Garda Reilly asked him if he was sorry and he replied “yes”.

He was asked was that for particpating and he said “basically yes”.

He was then asked if he was sorry for participating or for causing criminality and the teenager answered: “for participating, and the stress I am learning I placed the Tanaiste under”. He also said he was sorry for wasting his mother's and garda time.

Garda Reilly agreed with the defence that the teen addressed the upset he caused to Joan Burton (67) and Karen O'Connell. The court heard he had not prior criminal convictions or other charges pending and was getting good marks in school. He did not have any family problems and did not hang around with many people, he also told the garda.

Garda Sergeant Michael Phelan gave evidence earlier. He said, "There was constant jostling and pushing and Gardai were being shoved and pushed and had their caps knocked off. One female colleague was pushed from behind and fell into the crowd. The protestors just could not be moved."

Gda Sgt Phelan said protestors sat in front of the Garda jeep and as one was moved another one or two would move in. He said missiles rained down on Gardai including coins, cigarette lighters, branches of trees and other items. He was hit with a can of Red Bull and the window of the Garda jeep was damaged.

He said there was a suggestion from one of the perceived organisers that if the public order unit moved out, the slow march would resume.

During cross examination he was shown footage which showed the defendant moving along the footpath while filming.

Defence counsel Giollaiosa O Lideadha said he appeared for the most part to be moving backwards while filming. He said the pushing and shoving only happened because other people had come behind him and he could not continue moving back.

Sgt Phelan said he had to use force to remove the boy from blocking his way but he agreed with Mr O Lideadha that there were occasional periods of calm during the protest.

Detective Inspector Derek Maguire told Judge King the 17-year-old boy, who cannot be named because he is a minor, can be seen at various points in the footage.

At one stage he is holding a megaphone and at another he is standing in front of a Garda 4X4, which Joan Burton was in, as the public order unit tried to clear the crowd. He agreed that another man was the first to sit down in front of that vehicle.

He said the defendant appears to be clapping in another part of the footage and is gesturing to the crowd with arm movements.

In cross-examination, Det Inspector Maguire said he did not mention the teenage defendant in his original statement as there were hundreds of people around at the time.

He agreed that in parts of the footage some protesters were calling on the crowd not to throw things.

The court also heard the teenage defendant may have said into the megaphone at one stage “joany in your ivory tower – this is called people power”.

He agreed that it was a reasonable proposition that when the boy was seen holding his hands up, this was consistent with encouraging others to do the same. He agreed that when the public order unit moved in, the boy had his hands in the air.

He also identified the teen in front of Joan Burton as she walked from An Cosan eduction centre to nearby St Thomas's Church for the conclusion of a graduation ceremony. He accepted that the teenager who was holding a phone was “backing up at this point”.

He did not accept that later on gardai later made an agreement with protesters to let them slow march the 4X4 carrying the Tanaiste away.

It was put to him that a Garda superintendent thanked the protesters at that point but the Inspector said the protesters would not co-operate and “dictated” events.

“In my opinion the accused was orchestrating the crowd with his gestures and his possession of loud hailer he had, in frequent footage,” Det Inspector Maguire said. However, Mr O Lideadha suggested the orchestrating seen in the video was encouraging the crowd to move on.

He also pointed to footage which showed him standing while others were sitting. Det Inspector Maguire agreed with counsel that the defendant could be seen holding a megaphone for a woman who called on people to stop throwing eggs.

He said gardai had been protecting the two cars from being attacked and they were not in a position to use physical force because they were outnumbered.

On Tuesday he had told the court it was like a “rugby maul” when he tried to escort the then Tanaiste and her advisor through an angry crowd. A cordon of gardai had to be placed around them as the crowd got bigger, he said.

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. She was struck with a water balloon, had abuse shouted at her and gave evidence that it was not safe to get out garda cars when they were surrounded by protesters who banged on the roof and windows.

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 and she said there was an "air of extreme hostility" at the protest.

Ms O'Connell said someone hit her and she was in a state of shock for some time.

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

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