Tuesday 20 March 2018

Soldier found guilty of having alcohol in room has conviction quashed

A SOLDIER who claimed she was wrongly found guilty by her commanding officer of charges including having alcohol in her room has had her convictions quashed.

Private Emma Kells (31) brought High Court proceedings after she being convicted of something she said she did not did not do by her Battalion Commander and, as a result, was repatriated back to Ireland from her UN post in the Lebanon.

Her counsel said another member of the Defence Forces had admitted storing the alcohol.

Her proceedings were against the Minister for Defence, the Director of Military Prosecutions Ireland and the State who deny the decision to send her back to Ireland constituted a double punishment.

Today, following talks between the parties, Martin Giblin, SC for Pte Kells informed the President of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns that the matter had been settled. As part of the settlement Pte Kells's convictions are to be quashed, counsel said.

Simon Boyle SC for the State said while they were consenting to the settlement his side were not admitting any wrong doing or liability.

No other details of the settlement were revealed in open court.

Mr Justice Kearns welcomed the settlement. The Judge further welcomed Tuesday night's announcement that solicitor Michael Campion has been appointed as new military judge. Mr Campion will preside at court martials.

Private Kells, a communications and electronic engineering technician in the Defence Forces stationed at McKee Barracks Dublin, feared the convictions and repatriation may impact on her career.

The convictions arose after three bottles of spirits were found in a room she shared with another member of the Defence Forces at the camp in Lebanon. Pte Kells said the bottles were there from the time she moved in.

She had not purchased them and did not have time to dispose of them. She she did not want to be seen with them as possession of alcohol was an offence and she did not want anyone to think the bottles were hers, she said.

Following a search of her room, Pte Kells was charged and given the option of a court martial or summary trial before her commanding officer after being informed of the non existence of a validly appointed military judge.

Her commanding officer found her guilty of storing alcohol, and failing to hand over alcohol to a superior contrary to military Law at the UN Post at Tibnin, Lebanon on July 18 last. She was fined €400.

Mr Giblin had told the court that Private Kells was a gym instructor and scuba diver and not someone who abused alcohol. She had a good career with the Defence Forces and has served in Chad and Lebanon.

After electing for a summary trial before her commanding officer, she was found guilty of two charges while three other charges were dismissed, he said. She was given seven days to appeal but decided not to as she thought that was was the end of the matter.

She was unaware her convictions would lead to her repatriation in early September 2011, counsel said. It was subsequently discovered Pte Kells's roommate admitted buying the alcohol, counsel stated.

The commanding officer seemed to make certain assumptions about his client's conduct although she had maintained her innocence and failed to afford her fair procedures, Mr Giblin said. A decision was made to repatriate her which amounted to a double punishment.

The State denied Pte Kells' claims.

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