Jobstown: Six cleared after lengthy trial that cost the taxpayer €2.5m
There were scenes of jubilation in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court as Paul Murphy TD and five co-accused in the Jobstown trial were found not guilty.
Cheers and applause rose up from gathered supporters as the six were cleared of falsely imprisoning former Tánaiste Joan Burton and her adviser at an anti-water charges protest.
Each defendant stood in turn to hear identical unanimous verdicts read out by the court registrar and confirmed by the forewoman of the jury.
Finally, after a 40-day trial, Judge Melanie Greally told them: "You have been found not guilty. You are free to go."
Afterwards, Mr Murphy said millions of euro had been spent in an attempt to criminalise sit-down protests. According to legal sources, the marathon trial has cost the State up to €2.5m.
Mr Murphy (34), a Solidarity TD, along with South Dublin councillors Michael Murphy (53) and Kieran Mahon (39) as well as three other men - Michael Banks (46), Frank Donaghy (71) and Scott Masterson (34) - had all denied falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and her adviser Karen O'Connell.
The prosecution had maintained the women were trapped inside two Garda vehicles for around three hours as they tried to leave Fortunestown Road, Jobstown in Tallaght, following an adult education graduation ceremony on November 15, 2014.
The jury of seven men and four women had deliberated for three hours and 10 minutes when they returned with verdicts on all counts, shortly after noon yesterday. The court registrar asked the forewoman if the jury had reached verdicts.
"We have," she replied. "You say that the accused, Paul Murphy is not guilty on Count 1," the registrar said.
The packed court then erupted in cheers. Mr Murphy, and each co-accused, smiled as the verdicts were handed down.
Michael Murphy and Scott Masterson both gave a thumbs up before sitting back down in the dock. Judge Greally thanked the jury members for their "exemplary" work and exempted them from further service for life.
Supporters in the public gallery clapped, hugged, sobbed and chanted "no way, we won't pay" before they, and the six accused filed out of the courtroom.
The trial, which started on April 26, heard the two women were attending a graduation ceremony at An Cosán further education centre in Jobstown when anti-water charge demonstrations broke out. The jury heard they were first detained in an unmarked Garda Avensis, then a jeep as they tried to leave.
During the protest, eggs, bottles and other items were pelted at the Avensis and the windscreen was "shattered". Gardaí formed "a human cordon" and Ms Burton and Ms O'Connell were guided toward the jeep, which was also surrounded.
Ms Burton said she felt like she was running for her life as they eventually ran to waiting cars. "He looked pretty happy with himself, I have to say," she said of Mr Murphy during the protest. "He was smiling very broadly. He was the man with the megaphone."
The prosecution alleged the accused men engaged in a joint enterprise to "trap" the women and totally restrain their personal liberty.
Although the State accepted the defendants did not engage in any acts of violence, it was alleged the protest was not peaceful.
However, defence lawyers argued there was never any false imprisonment and that the defendants were exercising their constitutional right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and the obstruction of the cars amounted to no more than "inconvenience, delay and nuisance".
Paul Murphy said outside the court the trial had been an attempt to try "to criminalise the anti-water charges movement, to try to criminalise Jobstown".
"We estimate that millions of euro have already been spent in... an attempt to criminalise sit-down protests," he said.
He thanked the jury and his supporters for their involvement in the campaign and "trying to defend the right to protest".
"The attempt by the establishment to make an example of us through a conviction in order then to introduce a generalised chilling effect among all activists and working class people in general when it comes to effective protest has fallen flat on its face," Kieran Mahon said.