Friday 20 April 2018

Penalty points whistleblower challenges disciplinary ruling over court attendance

John Wilson. Photo: PA
John Wilson. Photo: PA

ONE of the whistle blowers behind the Garda penalty points controversy is challenging a finding that he breached the force's disciplinary regulations over his off-duty attendance at a courthouse.

John Wilson, with an address in Cavan town, says he thought a letter he received over the matter was "wind-up or a joke."

He wants High Court orders quashing decisions of May 2012 that he acted in breach of Garda discipline by refusing to answer why he was in attendance at the Cavan court proceedings.

Mr Wilson, who retired earlier this year having joined the force in 1982, is challenging findings that he, in neglect of duty, failed to promptly reply to the Divisional Officer of the Cavan/Monaghan division concerning correspondence dated January 31, 2012, and March 6, 2012.

In the January 31correspondence, an explanation was sought from Mr Wilson as to why, when he was not on duty and not in uniform,  he was at Cavan courthouse in the presence of Walter and Genevieve Smith who were co-defendants in a case being heard.

The March 6 correspondence also sought that Mr Wilson comply with the directions dated January 31, 2012.

In submissions on behalf of Mr Wilson yesterday, Mark Harty SC argued his client was entitled not to answer the questions put to him. The finding this amounted to a breach of discipline was made in excess of the relevant garda regulations, he argued.

Opposing the application,  Eileen Barrington SC, for the gardai and the State, argued that failure to carry out a lawful order amounted to a neglect of duty. There was no basis for the claim the findings were in excess of the relevant Garda regulations, she submitted.

Having heard from the sides, Ms Justice Iseult O'Malley said she was reserving her judgment.

In an affidavit for the case, Mr Wilson said he had been stationed at Clones garda station from 2002.  When he got the correspondence seeking an explanation for his attendance at the Cavan court proceedings, he initially thought it was "a wind-up or a joke", he said.

Having established the correspondence was genuine, he was "astonished" as he had done nothing wrong but was being asked to account for his movements while off-duty.

He felt he was entitled to his privacy while on his day off but was concerned there was some insinuation he had done some wrong.

In replies to the correspondence, he said he had asked what a Garda Inspector was "insinuating about me", he said.

Garda Chief Superintendent James Sheridan said in an affidavit he was very concerned that Mr Wilson's presence, while off-duty at the courthouse in circumstances connected to the administration of justice in a criminal case, could give rise to an apprehension of lack of impartiality on the part of the force with regard to that case.

Impartiality and independence are essential characteristics of the force, he said

In other court documents, a solicitor said the proceedings before the Cavan court which were subject of the query related to a dispute between neighbours.

The charges of harassment against the defendants, who had no previous convictions and remain of good character,  were all dismissed after the sides agreed to undertakings and mediation, the solicitor said.

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