Saturday 20 July 2019

Gardai believed there was a 'substantial risk of death to Marisa Simms', Charleton Tribunal told

Garda Keith Harrison and his partner Marisa Simms arrive at Dublin Castle yesterday to hear evidence at the Charleton Tribunal. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Garda Keith Harrison and his partner Marisa Simms arrive at Dublin Castle yesterday to hear evidence at the Charleton Tribunal. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Gerard Cunningham

Three of four statements requested from senior garda officers on Wednesday evening were handed in to the Charleton tribunal, a barrister for the inquiry has said.

Tribunal barrister Diarmaid McGuinness SC said that statements from Chief Superintendent Terry McGinn, Chief Superintendent Tony McLoughlin and Superintendent Eugene McGovern were received by the inquiry on Thursday morning.

A fourth officer, retired assistant commissioner Kieran Kenny, was "on the far side of the world" and unable to provide a statement at this time, the barrister said.

The tribunal asked for the statements after it heard about handwritten notes taken by Chief Superintendent McGinn at a garda conference in Letterkenny station on 8 October 2013.

Tribunal chairman, Mr Justice Peter Charleton,wanted to know what knowledge each of the officers had about the meeting, which took place two days after a statement of complaint was made by Marisa Simms, the partner of whistleblower Garda Keith Harrison.

Mr McGuinness aid that he understood Mr Kenny had no recollection of the events, but was not in a position to check his papers until he returned to Ireland.

Mr McGuinness said that Chief Supt McGinn's handwritten notes were handed in to Garda HQ several months ago, but had not been forwarded to the tribunal.

The tribunal barrister said that when Garda HQ was reviewing documents relevant to the tribunal, on its face it appeared that the note did not refer to Tusla or HSE, and so it was not forwarded to the tribunal.

In the current module, the tribunal is looking at contacts between gardaí and the HSE/Tusla relating to Garda Harrison.

Mícheál P O'Higgins SC said that he regretted the error in documentation provided to the inquiry, and Garda HQ were reviewing their processes to ensure such an error did not occur again in the future, and there was "no question of concealment or anything like that."

"As I said yesterday I am going to go for the chaos theory before the conspiracy theory," Mr Justice Charleton said. He said tribunals were often "inundated with documents".

Read More: Tribunal hears senior garda's decision to refer domestic disturbance complaint to GSOC questioned

Supt Eugene McGovern, cross-examined by Mark Harty SC on behalf of Garda Harrison, said a decision was made to refer Ms Simms' complaint to the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) under Section 102 of the Garda Siochana Act.

Section 102 allows for a referral to GSOC where a Garda has caused death or serious harm to another person.

Mr Harty said that distress was not covered by the definition of serious harm, and asked if Donegal gardaí would bring charges of assault causing serious harm where no physical injury occurred.

Supt McGovern said that a decision on what charges to bring would be a question for the DPP and he could not decide on hypothetical cases.

He said that gardaí were happy that there was a "substantial risk of death to Ms Simms."

Read More: Tusla officials deny agency was 'leaned on' to probe whistleblower

Mr Harty said that nobody had given crime prevention advice to Ms Simms, and that if an officer of the calibre of the witness believed there was a serious threat, he would have done something about it.

"We did. The matter was referred to the garda ombudsman," Supt McGovern said.

Mr Harty said the Garda Ombudsman had no powers of arrest or crime prevention powers.

Mr Harty said that in a letter on 21 October, Chief Supt Tony McLaughlin in Garda HQ wrote asking why officers in Donegal felt a Section 102 referral to GSOC was appropriate.

The letter stated that the appropriate action would appear to be "for the member concerned to be confined on indoor duties."

In reply, Chief Supt McGinn stated that threats made by Garda Harrison, as outlined in her statement by Ms Simms, constituted "a substantial risk of death".

Supt McGovern said that a referral to the HSE was based on the contents of the statement by Ms Simms, and he was more than satisfied that it was a proper referral to the HSE.

The superintendent said that Ms Simms made her statement voluntarily, and "nobody twisted her arm." Ms Simms later withdrew her statement.

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