Sunday 22 April 2018

Jobstown protester has name cleared after three-year fight

Jason Lester (18) from Tallaght, who had his conviction for the false imprisonment of former tánaiste Joan Burton during the Jobstown protest overturned on appeal. Photo: Collins Courts
Jason Lester (18) from Tallaght, who had his conviction for the false imprisonment of former tánaiste Joan Burton during the Jobstown protest overturned on appeal. Photo: Collins Courts

Tom Tuite

A youth found guilty of the false imprisonment of former tánaiste Joan Burton during the Jobstown protest has had his conviction overturned on appeal.

Jason Lester (18), from Brookview Close, Tallaght, Dublin, was aged just 15 when he took part in the protest in November 2014 and later ended up arrested, questioned and then put on trial last year.

He became the only person to be found guilty of false imprisonment of the former Labour leader and one of her assistants during the controversial protest.

However, yesterday - following a three-year fight to clear his name - he won his appeal against the guilty verdict.

In his non-jury trial last year at the Dublin Children's Court the then 17-year-old had denied falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and her adviser Karen O'Connell for three hours in cars at the Fortunestown Road in Jobstown in Tallaght.

The Dublin west TD and former minister for social protection had been at a graduation ceremony at An Cosan adult education centre when a water protest took place outside.

She and her adviser told the trial that they were too frightened to get out of Garda cars surrounded by people shouting abuse, throwing missiles and banging on windows.

He was found guilty last year - at the age of 17 - following his trial, which went on for a week at the Dublin Children's Court, but he was spared a custodial sentence.

He faced a possible two-year sentence, however on October 21, 2016, Judge John King imposed a conditional discharge providing the youth did not re-offend in the following nine months.

The youth, now aged 18, appealed the verdict and the case was listed in the circuit court yesterday.

His defence said the State's application was that the appeal would not be opposed.

He also said that though the appeal came from the Children's Court, his client, who did not address the proceedings, was now aged 18.

Judge Patrick Quinn said he was allowing the appeal and agreed to grant legal aid to the youth's lawyers, who cited the complexity of the case.

Speaking outside court, the teenager said he had always maintained his innocence and had now been exonerated.

He also said that the legal proceedings had seen his "health and family life" suffer.

"Today, my convictions for two counts of false imprisonment have been overturned," Mr Lester said.

"The past two years of court proceedings have been extremely stressful.

"They have taken a toll on my health and my family life.

"I was prosecuted for the serious offence of false imprisonment when I was only 15 years old, for taking part in a legitimate political protest.

"I have always maintained my innocence and today I have been exonerated.

"I would like to thank my family for their continued support, the general public, the people of Tallaght and my legal team for all the work they have done on this case."

In October charges against 10 of the 11 Jobstown water charge protesters were formally dropped at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

In June, six men, including Solidarity TD Paul Murphy, were found not guilty by a jury of falsely imprisoning the politician and her adviser following a nine-week trial.

Charges against a seventh man were dropped halfway through that trial.

Irish Independent

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