€50,000 damages for woman after Gardai raid the wrong house
A WOMAN whose home was raided by mistake by gardai was today awarded €50,000 damages by a High Court judge.
Paula Hamlett, Mr Justice Sean Ryan said, suffered a frightening, embarrassing and humiliating experience when gardai raided and searched her home in the mistaken belief they were at another address.
Mr Justice Ryan said while gardai admitted the early morning raid on Ms Hamlett's house in Co Louth in 2007 was an honest mistake, it was none the less a trespass.
IT manager, Ms Hamlett of Priory Lodge, Termonkeckin, Co Louth, had sued the State claiming damages for trespass and defamation as a result of the early morning raid on February 27,2007.
She claimed the doorbell rang persistently at 7.30am and a voice said "open the door or we will knock it down". She claimed the words and the conduct of the defendants meant she was the sort of person in respect of whose residence lawful authority had been given for a search.
She also claimed she had been lowered in the minds of right thinking people and there had been a breach of her constitutional rights.
The State admitted liability in relation to a breach of constitutional rights, negligence and breach of duty.
The court heard a warrant had been obtained for a search of a house but at a different address and the raid on the Hamlett home was a genuine error.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Ryan said gardai were searching for somebody they had good reason to apprehend and they had to act fast in case their quarry escaped.
He said in this case it was clear the gardai realised relatively quickly they had made a mistake. He noted there were two unfinished housing estates very close together and no name at the entrance of either estate.
Gardai had apologised promptly and treated Ms Hamlett, he said with a degree of sensitivity.
Mr Justice Ryan said he accepted Ms Hamlett's evidence that one of the officers was very aggressive. He asked if in a little estate three unmarked cars arrived and eight gardai emerged and banged on a door was sending out a signal.
"Take a wild guess. Yes, a message is being communicated," he added.
In her evidence, Ms Hamlett said she was at home with her five year old son and stepson after her husband had gone to work. She was woken at around 7.30am by a loud banging on her front door.
Her stepson went downstairs and said he was getting a key She said a lot of men pushed in the entrance and she did not know what was happening. A Garda said he had a warrant and flashed a piece of paper.
They were brought in to a front room while other men ran upstairs.
"I could hear thrashing overhead. I was hysterical," she said.
After a few minutes another garda came downstairs and started to shout at her.
She said he threw one of her letters on the table and began to bang the table asking her did she know the address on the envelope.
" I told him he was standing in the address. He left," she said.
She said the other gardai left and a female garda told her somebody would be back to explain.
"I stood at the door in my pyjamas. Nobody came back with an explanation. They left and went where they were supposed to be," she said but later gardai apologised.
Upstairs she said bed linen had been pulled off the bed and her son's toys were not where they should be. She said it was embarrassing because her neighbours could hear the commotion and she could see people looking at her.
Afterwards she said she did not want to stay in her home on her own and her husband had to cut back with work travel.
"It did not feel like my house any more," she said.