Monday 22 January 2018

Charleton Tribunal hears details of argument between whistleblower and partner which led to 999 call

Leading the tribunal: Justice Peter Charleton. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Leading the tribunal: Justice Peter Charleton. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

Gerard Cunningham

Lawyers for the partner of a garda whistleblower have given details to the Charleton tribunal of an argument which led to a 999 call in April 2013.

In its current module, the tribunal is investigating contacts between An Garda Síochána, Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, and Garda Keith Harrison.

Tribunal chairman, Mr Justice Peter Charleton had asked lawyers to clarify details of an incident which led to a garda patrol car being sent to the house in Churchill, Co Donegal where Garda Keith Harrison and Ms Marisa Simms lived, in the early hours of April 1, 2013.

In a statement to gardaí in October 2013, Marisa Simms said that Garda Harrison was "out of control", and she was pulled by her arm from her bed and pushed out the front door in her pyjamas. She later withdrew this statement.

"There was certainly a row in the sense that there was an argument between these two," Mr Hugh Hartnett SC said, responding to questions from the tribunal chairman. Mr Hartnett represents Ms Marisa Simms at the tribunal.

"Certainly voices were raised by both parties and there is no doubt about that," Mr Hartnett said.

The barrister said a duvet was pulled off the bed, but Ms Simms was not pulled out of the bed by her arm.

"She went out onto the street in her pyjamas and a coat over them, as she awaited the arrival of Mr (Jim) Quinn," Mr Hartnett said.

Mr Quinn, a self-employed counsellor, earlier said that he travelled to Churchill after receiving a telephone call from Garda Harrison. He said he was not confused about who had called him, and that the phone call had been from Garda Harrison, not Marisa Simms.

Mr Hartnett said when Ms Simms was contacted by GSOC, the Garda ombudsman commission, her reaction had been to withdraw her statement.

The barrister also said Garda Harrison did not bang a dashboard with his fist, but "there was a throwing of keys against the dashboard." He said the statement Ms Simms had made to gardaí was "intrusive and unnecessary".

Mr Mark Harty SC said that it was not Garda Harrison's position that Garda HQ had directed Tusla to investigate him, but that such a direction could have come from gardaí in Donegal.

Mr William Bogle said that in the early hours of April 1, 2013, he received a telephone call from his  sister Rita McDermott, mother of Marisa Simms. As a result, he telephoned Letterkenny Garda station, concerned about his niece's safety.

A recording of the 999 call was played, during which Mr Bogle said Ms Simms was living with "a garda in Donegal town" and he was "giving her awful abuse". Mr Bogle reported that Ms Simms had been "put out of the house", and that there were children in the house.

Mr Bogle's daughter was also heard on the call, saying that Garda Keith Harrison was "being very aggressive and he's chasing after her." Mr Bogle also called to Letterkenny Garda Station, where he spoke to Garda Tina Fowley.

Questioned by Mr Mark Harty for Garda Harrison, the witness agreed he had no factual information, and was relaying to gardaí hearsay he had received from Mrs McDermott.

Mr Harty told the tribunal that his instructions were that following a disagreement, Ms Simms indicated that she wished to go back and stay at her mother's, and because both he and Ms Simms had been drinking and could not drive, Garda Harrison rang  Jim Quinn, who collected her and brought her to her mother's house.

Kerry Bogle said that she learned when Rita McDermott called that Marisa Simms was "walking the street in nightclothes" after an argument. Mrs McDermott asked that they check in that Ms Simms was okay.

Asked why they contacted gardaí, Ms Bogle said "When you hear of somebody walking the streets at one in the morning, especially a girl, you are concerned."

She got in a car with her father, William Bogle, and they drove along the road to Churchill, but did not see Ms Simms. They then went to Letterkenny Garda Station.

Garda Ian Oates, who took the 999 call from William Bogle, said he did not realise initially that Keith Harrison was a garda. He said that once he realised who Garda Harrison was, he informed his sergeant.

Sergeant Aidan Doherty, the supervisory sergeant on duty in Letterkenny, said that initially, he thought the report was that Ms Simms "was in one car, being pursued in another car by Garda Harrison."

He eventually established the address when he spoke to Rita McDermott, who described Keith Harrison as "having a problem with alcohol" and told him that Ms Simms was "thrown from the house".

Sgt Doherty said that when they called to the address in Churchill the house was dark. When they learned that Ms Simms was "safe and well" and being driven to Raphoe, they left the scene.

Garda Eoin Waters said that he was contacted by Sgt Aidan Doherty, and "made aware of an alleged domestic incident that occurred." He travelled to the address in Churchill, but "there was no answer at the house, the house was in darkness."

Garda Waters also said that on another occasion, Inspector Goretti Sheridan gave him a phone belonging to Marisa Simms, and he made a copy of voicemails from Garda Harrison from the phone to a dictaphone. He then returned the phone to Ms Simms. The chairman said that the tribunal had transcripts of the voicemails.

The tribunal continues.

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