Monday 18 December 2017

Garda sergeant found guilty of harassing State solicitor with abusive letters and emails

Eve Doherty. Pic Collins Courts.
Eve Doherty. Pic Collins Courts.

Declan Brennan

A garda detective has been found guilty of harassing a State solicitor by sending her abusive letters and emails.

Eve Doherty (49), a detective sergeant based in Dublin, had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to a charge of harassing Elizabeth Howlin between September 2011 and March 2013. She also denied making false statements on two dates in March 2012 claiming Ms Howlin was perverting the course of justice.

At the time Ms Howlin worked with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) where she was involved in deciding whether or not to direct prosecutions in criminal cases.

Over an 18 month period letters and emails were sent to Ms Howlin's home, her place of work and to her GP calling her a “corrupt b**ch”, an “incompetent useless hobbit” and a “two faced b**ch”.

Ms Howlin said that she found the material very upsetting and distressing and an invasion of her privacy.

The material, which included A4 posters left around her housing estate, falsely claimed that Ms Howlin was a political appointee and that she would “pull” files to prevent the prosecution of anyone connected to her or the Government. Ms Howlin is a distant cousin of the TD Brendan Howlin.

Sgt Doherty had denied being the author of any of the material, which included anonymous emails containing similar allegations.

After a 15 day trial a jury of five men and six women found the accused guilty of the first charge of harassing Ms Howlin. The jury returned a not guilty verdict on the two counts of making false statements claiming Ms Howlin was perverting the course of justice.

Judge Melanie Greally thanked the jury for their time and care in assessing the evidence. The jury had been out for just over three hours.

She remanded Sgt Doherty on continuing bail until October 27 for sentence. She noted the conditions of bail included not having any contact with any parties in the proceedings.

She also said that there should be no postings on social media concerning any person or any matters relating to these proceedings.

The court heard Ms Howlin didn't know Sgt Doherty until this trial and that Sgt Doherty was then in a relationship with the victim's ex-partner.

Emails were sent from the same internet cafe in Dublin city centre to over 700 recipients using five anonymous email accounts. The five email accounts, one of which Sgt Doherty accepted she had used, had hundreds of recipients in common.

A literary comparison by gardaí between the emails and documents found in Sgt Doherty's home and work locker identified multiple examples of 60 common features such as grammatical errors.

Michael O'Higgins SC, defending, said that Sgt Doherty had previously made protected disclosures about issues in work. He said that it was not an easy thing to speak out like this and experience has shown that those that do don't fare very well.

He said that the content in the emails sent amounted to “a crank's charter” but that it was sent with the intention of ventilating the issues, not to harass anyone.

“People have a right to express unreasonable views, if they are genuinely held,” he said. He added that this didn't mean people could say whatever they wanted to say without recourse because there were libel laws if you defamed somebody.

Some of the material contained false allegations naming neighbours of Ms Howlin as a drug dealers and claiming falsely that Ms Howlin had interfered in their prosecution.

Kerida Naidoo SC, prosecuting, said that the author of these claims either knew the truth and choose to misrepresent it or else knew something about a drugs conviction of a member of the family but didn't bother to establish the full truth.

He argued that this was not the conduct of a whistleblower but was the “cowardly conduct of someone prepared to defame innocent people”.

He said that some of the material sent contained personal details that only a very small pool of people had access to. This included details about the comings and goings of Ms Howlin and her family, at a time when the accused was in a relationship with Ms Howlin's ex-husband.

“Whoever wrote these documents had a source of info about Liz Howlin very close to her,” counsel said.

He said the relationship with Ms Howlin's ex-husband also provided a motive of jealously for Sgt Doherty.

Shortly before midday the jury foreman told Judge Greally that the jury wanted to see some of the evidence in the case. He asked for two documents found in Sgt Doherty's home; namely a seven page typed document and two pages from a notebook.

He also asked for copies of two letters found in Sgt Doherty's locker, which respectively began “well smart bitch, still going through hell. I hope you are” and “ha ha ha ha, find a job yet”. He also asked for the envelopes that accompanied the letters.

In his closing speech for the prosecution Kerida Naidoo SC put it to the jury that it was suggested by the defence that these letters were not written by the defendant because they were addressed to her and abusive of her. One of these letters had a Garda header on it.

He said that a letter was found in the scanner of the accused's home with a separate Garda header attached made it look like the accused was making the letter look as if it came from Gardai by grafting the logo on top of it.

He said it was an unusual thing to do but that writing an abusive letter to yourself is not the conduct of a rational person.

Judge Greally told the jury it could receive copies of the letters. She said that the other documents were used for comparative purposes. The text of these documents formed part of the text analysed for grammatical and style errors common to the abusive material and documents linked to the defendant.

Michael O'Higgins SC told jurors that the question for them was not whether the statements about Ms Howlin interfering in prosecutions and perverting the course of justice were true. He said the question was whether or not the person propagating these statements believed them to be true.

To be guilty of making a false statement a person had to know the statement was false, he said.

During the trial the jury heard that the first letter was sent in September 2011 to Ms Howlin's home and purported to be from her neighbours. The letter called her “a c**t of a mother” and told her to “f**k off to whatever hell hole you crawled out of”.

It also stated: “We are all watching every move you make”.

A second letter sent around November 2011 to Ms Howlin's boss, DPP Claire Loftus. The letter incorrectly stated that Ms Howlin was the niece of Brendan Howlin TD.

It called Ms Howlin a “most two faced hard faced b**ch” and claimed to Ms Loftus that Ms Howlin was “destroying your good name every opportunity she gets”

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