Tuesday 23 July 2019

Garda did not want 'the fame of being a whistleblower', partner tells Charleton Tribunal

Garda Keith Harrison & Marissa Simms during the Disclosures Tribunal
Garda Keith Harrison & Marissa Simms during the Disclosures Tribunal

Gerard Cunningham

The partner of a garda who says he was targeted for making a protected disclosure has told the Charleton Tribunal that Garda Keith Harrison did not want "the fame of being a whistleblower".

Mark Harty SC, representing Garda Keith Harrison, asked Ms Marisa Simms what she made of suggestions that her partner Garda Harrison was motivated by "attention seeking, jumping on the bandwagon and looking for fame in making a protected disclosure in May 2014".

Ms Simms said anyone who would suggest this was "not in possession of the full facts".

In the current module, the tribunal, chaired by Mr Justice Peter Charlton, is looking at contacts between gardaí and the HSE/Tusla relating to Garda Harrison, which he alleges amount to an abuse of power. The tribunal has not yet heard details relating to the protected disclosure.

"This, Tusla, is not even a snippet of what we have endured," Ms Simms said today.

Ms Simms claimed that she had been followed into Dunnes Stores by garda cars flashing blue lights, that garda cars drove by her home slowly, and that she and Garda Harrison had received death threats.

Garda Keith Harrison during the Disclosures Tribunal
Garda Keith Harrison during the Disclosures Tribunal

"Absolutely no way was this for fame. No way," Ms Simms said.

Tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton said the Tribunal was looking at how a statement was taken from Ms Simms in October 2013, and was not interested in "prurient exploration of anybody's private life".

"I don't believe that anybody giving evidence here has been in any way mistreated," the chairman said.

Ms Simms said that she first became aware a complaint had been forwarded to GSOC, the Garda Ombudsman Commission, on her behalf on October 8, 2013, when she received a telephone call from GSOC case officer George O'Doherty.

Ms Simms said she was in hospital at the time, and GSOC was the furthest thing from her mind.

Ms Simms denied she changed her mind about the complaint she had made in a garda statement on October 6, after she spoke with her partner.

"There was never any serious threat to begin with. There was never any sea change," Ms Simms said.

Ms Simms denied she was pressurised into changing her mind by Garda Harrison.

She said the statement she made to gardai was intended "for the chief's eyes only".

Garda Harrison told the tribunal that he believed the referral to GSOC was motivated by malice towards him.

He said this stemmed from activities while he was stationed previously in Athlone, and because he was in a relationship with Marisa Simms, whose brother was charged with the manslaughter of Buncrana garda, Gary McLoughlin, following a car collision.

Read More: 'You were keen to hitch your wagon to Sgt McCabe's train' - Whistleblower challenged

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02/10/2017 Una Coll during the Disclosures Tribunal at Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

The tribunal also heard evidence from social worker Una Coll, who, it heard received an anonymous letter regarding the Simms family in 2012.

She then contacted Sergeant Brigid McGowan to get an accurate postal address for Ms Simms as she did not recognise the address in the anonymous letter.

She said that she had given Sergeant McGowan a copy of the anonymous letter when it was requested. She said Sergeant McGowan was the Garda children's welfare liaison and not “some random person”.

She told the inquiry she was at a strategy meeting in October 2013, and she was told afterwards by Sergeant McGowan that a referral had been sent for the Simms children.

The tribunal chairman asked Ms Coll how she would feel about gardaí "directing" an investigation should be carried out.

"That had never been something I have come across in my work with the gardaí," Ms Coll said.

Ms Coll said the welfare services consulted with gardaí, but "they do not direct us".

"I wouldn't accept that any member of An Garda Siochana would see fit to direct how we carry out our job."

Read More: 'I don't want to be here,' Marisa Simms says as evidence of first marriage, ectopic pregnancy, and infidelities heard

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Gerry Hone

Principal social worker Gerry Hone told the tribunal he received a notification from Superintendent Eugene McGovern about the Simms children on October 10, 2013. The notification identified Sergeant McGowan as the point of contact on the case.

Mr Hone said the form "provides a mechanism to ensure there's a way to inform the HSE about any concern that emerges about a child's welfare".

Mr Hone said a letter on October 16 from the HSE to gardaí updating them on the status of the case meant social workers needed more information before they could do anything, not that the case was closed.

"A box had been ticked on the form, indicating emotional abuse, but that was all," Mr Hone said.

"Further information needed to be shared between the agencies if any action was to take place."

The tribunal has previously heard that social worker Donna McTeague met with Ms Simms and Garda Harrison in February 2014, after which the case was closed.

Asked by the tribunal chairman about the possibility that garda officers would direct social workers to look at a particular case, Mr Hone said he had "never heard of that happening and I would be extremely concerned if I heard of it happening".

"I would never have experience of an outside agency trying to direct us in how to do something," Mr Hone said "We make our own decisions."

Mr Hone said that it would be "highly inappropriate" and he would bring up any attempt to direct an investigation with gardaí".

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