Sunday 18 March 2018

Army private denies she was responsible for drink in her room

Tim Healy

AN army private claims she was wrongly found guilty by her commanding officer of charges including having alcohol in her room while serving with the United Nations in the Lebanon.

Private Emma Kells (31) has brought a High Court action aimed at quashing her convictions.

In her action before the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, Private Kells claims that as a result of being convicted of something she did not do by her Battalion Commander she was repatriated back to Ireland.

The State has opposed her action and has denied that the decision to send her back to Ireland constituted a double punishments as claimed.

The court heard that Private Kells, a Communications and electronic engineering technician stationed at McKee Barracks Dublin, fears the impact the convictions and repatriation will have on her career with the defence forces.

Private Kells said that the convictions arise after three bottles of spirits were found in the room she shared with another member of the defence forces at the UN camp in Lebanon.

She said the bottles were there from the time she moved in. She did not purchase them, nor did she have time to dispose of them.

She also said that she did not want to be seen with them as possession of alcohol was an offence, and she did not want anyone to think the bottles were hers.

Following a search of her room, she was charged and given the option of a court martial or a summary trial before her commanding officer, after being informed of the non existence of a validly appointed military judge.

Her commanding officer then found her guilty of storing alcohol, and failing to hand alcohol into a superior contrary to military Law at the UN Post at Tibnin, Lebanon on July 18 last. She was fined €400.

Opening the case, Martin Giblin SC for Private Kells said that as a gym instructor and a scuba diver his client was not someone who abused alcohol. She had a good career with the defence forces and has served in Chad and Lebanon.

Counsel said that after electing for a summary trial before her commanding officer, his client was found guilty of two charges. Three other charges against her were dismissed. She was given seven days to appeal.

Counsel said she decided not to appeal as she thought that was was the end of the matter she was unaware that her convictions would lead to her repatriation, counsel submitted.

It was subsequently discovered that Pvt Kells's roommate admitted buying the alcohol, counsel stated.

Her commanding officer seem to make certain assumptions about his client's conduct, even though she had maintained her innocence.

However a decision was made to repatriate her, which counsel said amounted to a double punishment and she was not afforded fair procedures by her commanding officer, counsel added.

In her action against the Minister for Defence, The Director of Military Prosecutions Ireland and the Attorney General Pvt Kells is seeking orders from the court quashing the convictions she received.

She is further seeking declarations that the absence of a validly appointed Military Judge deprived her of the means to defend herself against offences contrary to Military Law, and that after she was charged she was given legal advice that was grossly misleading, incorrect to allow her decided whether or not to appeal her convictions.

The hearing continues.

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