Friday 6 December 2019

'Drop the f***ing toothbrush' - couple mistakenly raided by gardaí settle case

A solicitor and his wife were victims of a “catastrophic mistake” when armed gardaí raided their home in a search of a cannabis grow house, the High Court heard. Stock Image
A solicitor and his wife were victims of a “catastrophic mistake” when armed gardaí raided their home in a search of a cannabis grow house, the High Court heard. Stock Image

Tim Healy

A solicitor and his wife were victims of a "catastrophic mistake" when armed gardaí raided their home in a search of a cannabis grow house, the High Court heard.

Yesterday, John Donald and Helena Flanagan, who the court heard have led blameless lives with no connection to crime, settled their action against the Garda Commissioner and the State over the December 21, 2012, incident.

The court heard they were getting ready for work around 7.45am in their apartment at Chandler Court, Capel Street, Dublin, when the front door was rammed open.

Mr Donald was brushing his teeth and only had a towel around him when he ran downstairs to find a gun pointed in his face. He was told to put his hands up and "drop the f**king toothbrush".

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The weapon was about six inches from his face.

He said: "I could see the gun shaking in the hand of the man pointing it at me.

"I had no idea if I was going to be killed and had no idea they were gardaí."

That was until a woman ran past him up the stairs and he could see 'Garda' written on the back of her jacket.

Mr Donald, who is a partner at Arthur Cox Solicitors, was giving evidence at the opening of his and his wife's action for assault, false imprisonment, breach of privacy and infliction of emotional suffering in the incident.

The defendants admitted liability and the case was before a jury for assessment of damages.

Yesterday, Mr Justice Michael McGrath told jurors the parties had come to an agreement and they would not have to make a decision. He told jurors they were free to go.

Joe Jeffers BL, for the couple, asked for and was granted an order striking out the case with an order for the plaintiffs' costs.

Mr Donald told the court that until he saw the word 'Garda' on the back of the woman officer's jacket that morning, "I thought I was going to die and they were going to kill Helena or me."

He went back upstairs where he saw Ms Flanagan trying to cover herself with a towel as she shook uncontrollably and cried. "I had never see that look of utter terror on her face before."

Gardaí took him into the master bedroom where he was told to put on his clothes and his wife was taken into the bathroom before a robe was obtained for her.

Gardaí asked was there "anything in the apartment they would not want to find" and Mr Donald replied no.

When Mr Donald looked at the search warrant, it said "apartment at the back of building", and did not have names on it or the number.

As gardaí left, one of them said: "You can use this to get the rest of the day off", he said.

At a later meeting in Store Street garda station, there was no apology and a refusal to provide a copy of the search warrant, the court heard. They were told it was "a live warrant", which worried them it could happen again. They had to threaten legal action to get a copy of the warrant.

The couple went away for Christmas but never returned to the apartment, their first home, because "we could not feel safe". They got rented accommodation and some months later let out Chandler Court to try to cover its mortgage. They now live in Dún Laoghaire.

The incident caused both of them to have nightmares, affected their relationship and "threw our lives into chaos for a number of years", he said.

Mr Donald was diagnosed with traumatic stress with ensuing adjustment disorder while Ms Flanagan was diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.

John M Fitzgerald SC, for the State, said this was "admitted to be a catastrophic mistake" where gardaí were looking for a marijuana growhouse.

Irish Independent

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