Partner of garda whistleblower recalls feeling afraid during station 'chat'
"At one stage I remember putting my head in my hands saying I didn't know what they wanted me to say next"
The partner of a garda whistleblower has told the Charleton Tribunal how she felt she had no choice but to go to Letterkenny garda station when she was contacted by a garda inspector in October 2013.
The partner of garda whistleblower Keith Harrison, Marissa Simms, gave evidence at the tribunal today.
Ms Simms made a statement against her partner in 2013, which she later withdrew.
Ms Simms told the tribunal that Inspector Goretti Sheridan initiated contact with her and asked her "to come in for a chat". Ms Simms said the inspector told her "the chief [superintendent] wants an exact time", so she agreed to call to the station at 3pm on October 6, 2013.
Ms Simms said that prior to this, Gweedore gardai had called to her house, and she did not want this to happen again.
"To say I went in voluntarily is not correct," Ms Simms said.
Ms Simms said that initially there was a conversation in the station with Inspector Sheridan and Sergeant Brigid McGowan "trying to put me at ease", and then Sergeant McGowan said, "We'll put this down now, while it's fresh in your head".
Ms Simms also said that Sergeant McGowan told her "You need to think of your children."
Ms Simms said she was not sure what Sergeant McGowan meant by this, but she remembered feeling afraid.
Ms Simms said that many of the things in the garda statement were not her words, and that it contained "private details" and things she would never divulge to anyone.
She said that she was tired, and might have nodded in agreement to questions put to her, which were then written down, but they were not her own words.
"At one stage I remember putting my head in my hands saying I didn't know what they wanted me to say next," Ms Simms said.
Ms Simms said that the garda officers suggested she could come back and continue the next day, but she did not want to see them again.
She said she had not called Garda Harrison "obsessive", and the statement was not read over to her when it was completed.
"Small things were taken and magnified into something that never was," Ms Simms said.
She gave an example from the statement in which a large volume of text messages were described as "very persistent and bordering on obsessive".
"In the course of our relationship we were in contact by text, that was normal and made into something that wasn't," Ms Simms said.
"In your view was it obsessive - that's the question that was put to me. In my view, it wasn't obsessive. That was the question that was put to me and that's what was recorded."
She said she it was "absolutely ludicrous" to say she was "put out of our home", but had left voluntarily. She said she had asked her mother to collect her after an argument with Garda Harrison.
She said it was not her words that Garda Harrison was undermining her confidence or "became abusive and aggressive" during an argument because he was not invited to Ms Simms' sister Paula's wedding.
"Garda Harrison did say in relation to my sister, 'I am going to bury her', but it was in relation to the wedding, that he was going to get her back. It was never a physical threat that he was going to bury her,” Ms Simms said.
"He did say I was going to get burnt, but he meant by my family. I was going to get burnt if I was trying to please everyone, getting pulled in every direction. It never meant that he was going to incinerate or burn anyone. I never picked it up like that."
Ms Simms also said Garda Harrison never grabbed her by the wrists, as recorded in the statement.
Ms Simms said she had one toilet break while in Letterkenny garda station, and it was an “escorted break”. She said Inspector Sheridan came into the bathroom with her, and waited outside the toilet door.
Ms Simms said she thought the statement would only go to chief Superintendent Terry McGinn, and it was not until she got a phone call from GSOC case officer George O'Doherty two days later that she realised this was not the case. She said she felt "duped" after speaking with Mr O'Doherty.
Tribunal barrister, Kathleen Leader BL, put it to Ms Simms that after she left the garda station, she sent a text to Inspector Sheridan saying, "Hi, just here now. Thanks for everything, Marisa", which could suggest she had been happy to make a statement.
Ms Simms said this was because Insp Sheridan had asked her to text when she got home safe, as she was exhausted, and she had not been happy to provide a statement.
"At that stage I took these ladies at face value that the information that was extracted from me was only for the chief's eyes," Ms Simms said.
The following day, Ms Simms called to the garda station and handed over her mobile phone. Ms Simms said she wasn't sure what to do, that she had been asked for her phone and gave it to gardaí, but hadn't felt pressure to do so.
Internet searches on her phone showed Ms Simms had looked up citizen's information in relation to barring safety and protection orders, and three stories about men accused of harassing women, two involving police officers.
Ms Simms said the word "harassment" was on her mind because it had been said to her by Inspector Sheridan and Sergeant McGowan, and she may have googled it.
Ms Leader went through texts on the phone from September 29, 2013, a week before Ms Simms made her garda statement, in which she texted Garda Harrison saying, "U r so full of shit, u make me sick. Love, you don't know the meaning of the word. You have threatened me for the last time."
On the following day, Ms Simms send a text which read "Nothing to talk about Keith, you threatened to burn me, bury me and Paula. Get my kids taken from me. What type of person would do that. I am done. Completely."
Ms Leader said that her sister had convinced her that this was a serious threat, but she did not believe it was so anymore.
"I knew it was never a genuine threat. What he said exactly was if I didn't stop trying to please everyone I would get burnt," Ms Simms said.
Ms Leader said gardaí had not obtained Ms Simms' phone until two days after they took her statement, and could not have known at that point what the texts messages would say.
Ms Simms said it was a difficult time in their relationship, but if she was genuinely threatened she would not have had anything to do with Garda Harrison.
Ms Simms said that around Halloween in 2013, Garda Harrison began counselling, and she saw a change in his behaviour.
Mr Leader said that a cynical person might say that because her relationship with Garda Harrison stabilised, she wouldn't want him to have difficulty in his job and had withdrawn her complaints.
"Garda Harrison has been portrayed as an absolute monster, and its horrendous all the stuff I've had to sit here and listen to," Ms Simms said. "It's not true."
The tribunal continues.