Woman in false extortion allegation case awarded €28,000 in damages
A woman has been awarded €28,000 against the gardai after a High Court jury found she suffered emotional harm as a result of a false extortion allegation against her when she was a secondary school student.
Lydia O'Hara (25), from Portlaoise, had sued the board of management of her former school, Scoil Chriost Ri in Portlaoise, and the Garda Commissioner, as a result of the false allegation.
After nearly four hours deliberations, the jury found emotional harm had been inflicted on her as a result of the gardai's actions on March 9, 2004, when she was brought into the principal's office and accused of extortion by a garda following the allegation from a second year student who made it up as a cover for stealing money from her family.
The jury found the gardai were reckless in their actions but also found the school itself had not inflicted damage.
After making their award of €28,000 against the Garda Commissioner, Mr Justice John Hedigan thanked them and discharged them. He adjourned the issue of costs to July 28.
Afterwards, Ms O'Hara's solicitor David Walley said on her behalf: "It is a good day for children".
Ms O'Hara, a Junior Cert student at the time, claimed the way the gardai and school handled the allegation ruined her life. She suffered post traumatic stress, depression, self harmed and had panic attacks in public as a result, it was claimed.
She said gardai failed to monitor the false accuser when they gave her (the accuser) a marked €20 note to hand over to Ms O'Hara in what the court heard was a garda "sting operation".
Instead, the false accuser managed to put the €20 under Ms O'Hara's bag when she was away from it for a short time.
When she returned, the school principal asked her to pick her bag up from the floor, when the €20 was also noticed. From there, Ms O'Hara said, her ordeal began whereby she was falsely accused of extorting money and she was given a formal caution by a garda about her right not to say anything.
It was only four hours later, when further inquiries were carried out by gardai, and information that the false accuser had been "hovering" around Ms O'Hara's bag, that and officer told her she was owed a big apology.
The defendants denied the claims and argued they were not reckless in their actions.
The school said it was obliged to investigate a complaint made by the mother of the false accuser. Once the false accuser owned up that it was all a lie, the school issued a number of apologies including a lenghty one in which it acknowledged Ms O'Hara had been put through a nightmare.
The gardai argued they carried out a normal investigation once the false accuser made a statement with the support of her mother.
They say they did their job, got to the bottom of the matter quickly, and exonerated Ms O'Hara.