'You are free to go' - Paul Murphy and five co-defendants in Jobstown trial found not guilty
DUBLIN Circuit Criminal Court erupted in cheers and applause this afternoon as Paul Murphy TD and five other men were found not guilty on all charges of falsely imprisoning former Tanaiste Joan Burton and her advisor Karen O’Connell.
The jury in the Jobstown trial returned its verdict at 12.17pm, after three hours and 10 minutes in deliberations following a trial that lasted more than two months.
When the verdict on the first count of false imprisonment against Paul Murphy was read out by the court registrar, the throng of more than 100 of the accused’s supporters burst into loud, jubilant cheers.
Mr Murphy, who stood for the verdicts to be read out, smiled as the foreman of the jury confirmed that the verdict was unanimous. He sat down in the dock again after he was also cleared of the second charge.
The accused men’s supporters remained silent as some of the other verdicts were read out, cheered for others and rose for a standing ovation at the end. All the verdicts were the same - not guilty, and unanimous.
Mr Murphy (34), a Solidarity TD, along with south Dublin councillors Michael Murphy (53) and Kieran Mahon (39) and three other men - Michael Banks (46), Frank Donaghy (71) and Scott Masterson (34) - had all denied falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and Ms O’Connell at Fortunestown Road, Jobstown in Tallaght, Dublin on November 15, 2014.
The offences were alleged to have happened during an anti-water charges protest following an adult education graduation ceremony.
Scott Masterson and South Dublin Councillor Michael Murphy both gave a thumbs up in response to their verdicts. In the public gallery, some people sobbed and at one point a chant of “no way, we won’t pay” rose up in the courtroom.
Judge Melanie Greally addressed the jurors after the noise subsided, thanking them and excusing them from further jury service.
She told the accused: “you have been found not guilty.”
The accused's supporters also gave the jury members thumbs up and Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger and former TD Joe Higgins both smiled and clapped as the six men filed out of the dock.
The six were cleared of falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and Ms O’Connell during a protest that took place while they attended an adult education graduation ceremony in 2014.
Ms Burton had been invited to Jobstown to speak at a ceremony for graduates of An Cosán further education centre, which was co-founded by Minister for Children Katherine Zappone.
The prosecution maintained Ms Burton and Ms O’Connor were trapped inside two garda vehicles for around three hours as they tried to leave the area.
It was argued by the State they were falsely imprisoned because when the cars were surrounded, they were “totally restrained”- they were unable to leave on foot because of the danger and the cars were not able to move away. The State also said the imprisonment of the pair was intentional and the accused men acted in a joint enterprise.
However, the defence lawyers argued there was no false imprisonment. They asserted that the accused were exercising their constitutional right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and that the obstruction to the cars was no more than “an inconvenience, delay and a nuisance.”
During the trial, Ms Burton said she felt like she was running for her life as she fled a group of anti-water charges protesters who surrounded her after the ceremony.
She was called “bitch” and “c***” by protesters who began jostling and directing verbal abuse at her. After first going to the An Cosán building, Ms Burton then took part in a graduates’ procession to the neighbouring church.
Protesters shouted abuse, including “‘shame on you”. As she walked into the church she was struck on the back of the neck by a water balloon, which soaked the back of her hair and her top.
After the ceremony, the two women left by a side door and ran towards an unmarked garda Avensis, which was surrounded and people who began banging on the car and shouting abuse.
Ms Burton said the garda driver could not move the car because of the presence of children around it. At one point she saw Paul Murphy.
“He had a megaphone and he was speaking and using the megaphone”, she said. “He looked pretty happy with himself, I have to say. He was smiling very broadly. He was the man with the megaphone.”
Gardai formed “a human cordon” and Ms Burton and Ms O’Connell were guided toward a garda jeep. It too was blocked in by protesters and had to inch out of the car park.
Eggs, bottles and other items were pelted at the car and the front left windscreen was “shattered”.
The pair eventually jumped out of a garda jeep and ran up a hill to a waiting garda car with a group of people chasing after them.
Karen O’Connell told the jury during the trial the protest was one of the "most scary experiences" of her life. She felt like she was in a “maul” when an “angry mob” swarmed around her and Ms Burton.
The first murmurs that verdicts had been reached broke out at 12.10pm, while the courtroom was mostly empty. Within a minute if was filled to capacity and the six accused men took their seats in the dock.
At 12.17pm, the seven men and four women of the jury filed back in. The court registrar recorded deliberation time at three hours and tem minutes, taking a 17 minute break into account.
He then asked the forewoman if the jury had reached verdicts.
"We have," she replied.
She confirmed that the verdicts had been recorded on the issue paper.
"You say that the accused, Paul Murphy is not guilty on Count 1," the registrar said.
The court then erupted in cheers.
"Is that the verdict of you all?" the registrar asked.
"It is, yes" she replied.
This was followed by more cheers from the public gallery.
The same process followed for each of the co-accused.
Reacting to the verdict Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said the Dáil should not “rerun the evidence”.
She said: “We respect the court decision of course. This was a jury trial., The jury makes it decision and justice takes it course.”
Ms Fitzgerald denied accusations from Solidarity TD Mick Barry that the Government had an agenda, saying such claims were “quiet simply untrue”.
Mr Barry described the outcome of the case as “a stunning defeat for the political establishment” who wanted “to create a powerful chill factor” to stop protests.
He described former Tánaiste Joan Burton as the “star witness for the State” in the case and accused the Labour Party of “a shabby attempt to frame socialists for standing up for their communities”.
Mr Barry said the Government used the Jobstown incident in an “attempt to gain revenge against those of us on the Left who have defeated you on the issue of water charges”.
“The Left are on the front foot now,” he said.