Wednesday 20 February 2019

Leading Garda awarded €85,000 damages after intimidation and harassment

Tim Healy

A RETIRED garda detective has been awarded €85,000 in High Court damages after a judge found he had been subjected to bullying and harassment by his superiors.

William Browne (55), who was involved in several high profile criminal investigations during his 33 year career, had sued the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice.

Mr Browne, who retired last year, claimed that from 2000 onwards, while stationed at Kilmainham Garda Station, he was subjected to a campaign of intimidation and harassment.

He claimed it consisted of, among other matters, being banned from using a garda car for eight and a half years, being deprived of a firearm as a detective, being subjected to false and unjustified disciplinary charges and being defamed when he name was put on a controversial leaflet by someone else.

Today Mr Justice Kevin Cross found he had been bullied in relation to several of 12 allegations at the centre of the case.

One of the major investigations he was involved in was the murder of two young men in 1999 at the Grand Canal in Kildare, and which involved Mr Browne being transferred to work at Naas Garda Station, the judge said.

A dispute arose between Mr Browne and his superintendent over an expenses claim he submitted for work on this case and led to him issuing a letter of complaint through his solicitor.

While this incident itself did not amount to bullying, the judge said it was a factor in relation to another incident which led to Mr Browne being refused permission to drive a garda car.

This arose after Mr Browne parked an unmarked garda car outside Kilmainham Station in September 2000 and the car was later stolen. His superiors revoked his permission to drive saying he had been negligent in parking the car there when he should have put it in the garda station car park, although he said that park was full that night.

The judge accepted his superiors were probably allowed, under garda rules, to revoke that permission and while he reluctantly accepted this did not of itself amount to bullying, it became so because the revocation continued for eight and a half years.

The continuing deprivation of his use of a car was an attempt by the defendants to "control and punish" Mr Browne because he was "regarded as a source of trouble" due to his complaint to a solicitor about his expenses dispute, the judge said. It was "entirely unfair and an example of bullying and harassment by the defendants at a high level of management," he said.

The judge also found Mr Browne had been libelled over a political leaflet opposing a development on the Nestle/Rowntree site in Kilmainham, near where Mr Browne also lived. A photocopy of the leaflet, which the defendants accepted contained Mr Browne's signature which had been lifted from another document, was passed under the office door of one of his superior officers.

This was clearly an attempt by some relatively senior members of the garda to implicate him with a political protest being organised by extremists or subversives and it was not only a libel but part of the bullying and harassment campaign seeking to undermine him as a detective, the judge said.

Another example of this was a criminal investigation against Mr Browne alleging he fraudulently submitted an overtime and expenses claim related to €7.95 (€7.95). The judge said there was no basis for any criminal investigation and it was prompted by an animus against Mr Browne "by his superiors and part of the campaign to control him."

In October 2004, Mr Browne went sick due to anxiety and stress for a week after being rostered by his supervising sergeant in a manner he considered unfair, the judge said. As a result, his superintendent decided to remove his firearm and it was recommended he see the garda medical officer.

He was found fit to carry a weapon but it was not returned to him.

The judge said the issue of him potentially abusing the weapon as a result of past stress was not valid and the decision makers had ignored and not even read the medical reports. The refusal to return the gun was part of an informal disciplinary decision to punish him because of an alleged grudge against his supervising sergeant, the judge said.

The judge awarded him €55,000 for bullying and harassment, €25,000 for defamation and €5,000 in special damages.

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