Soldier clears name after being sent home from Lebanon for booze mix-up
WHEN Private Emma Kells took legal action against the Army and the State, her only ambition was to protect her good name.
Yesterday, the 31-year-old was celebrating after two convictions which had tarnished her exemplary military record -- and saw her sent home three months early from her UN post in the Lebanon -- were quashed.
Her solicitor Fergus O'Regan said last night that Pte Kells had been "determined to vindicate her good name" and to ensure there was no impediment to her military career.
Pte Kells brought the High Court proceedings after she was found guilty by her commanding officer of having alcohol in her room in the Lebanon.
She claimed the alcohol was not hers.
She further claimed her repatriation from the Lebanon was a double punishment.
It has since emerged that another soldier admitted buying the alcohol. The State initially denied Pte Kells' claims but agreed to quash the convictions yesterday after talks between the two sides.
But even before Pte Kells took on the establishment and won, she had already been hailed as a heroine after she pulled a drowning man to safety from a fast flowing river.
In January last year, Pte Kells was walking close to the Boyne River in Drogheda when she saw a man struggling in the freezing waters. She waded into the current and managed to reach him as he repeatedly went under the surface.
"I managed to get him over my shoulders and literally carried him from the river to the bank", she said at the time.
Yesterday, the soldier was jubilant after the Army effectively erased the convictions handed down by her Battalion officer in the Lebanon.
Pte Kells, who is prevented by military regulations from commenting personally on the outcome, now plans to pursue her military career in the army, her solicitor confirmed.
She works as a communications and electronics engineer in McKee Barracks in Dublin.
Mr O'Regan, of O'Regan Little Solicitors, Dublin, said the purpose of the legal action was to ensure that what happened in the Lebanon did not have a lasting impact on her future as a soldier.
"She had a good military record and wanted to maintain it. That had been tarnished by her repatriation," he said.
Pte Kells' High Court action was against the Defence Minister, the Director of Military Prosecutions Ireland and the State.
Yesterday, 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, he 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.
The convictions arose after three bottles of spirits were found in a room Pte Kells shared with another soldier at the camp in Lebanon. Pte Kells, from Drogheda in Co Louth, said the bottles were there from the time she moved in and she had not had time to dispose of them.
She was charged and given the option of a court martial or summary trial before her commanding officer after being told there was no validly appointed military judge available.
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.
The court heard that Pte Kells was a gym instructor and scuba diver and not someone who abused alcohol.
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. Mr Giblin told the court that her 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. The State denied this.