Thursday 19 September 2019

Here's what the jury heard - your verdict?

The jury did its duty on the Jobstown case, while the establishment trashed civilised values, writes Gene Kerrigan

Tom Halliday
Tom Halliday

Let's put ourselves in the position of a juror in the Jobstown case. Since the case was long and unwieldy, let's look at the evidence the jury heard about the actions of just one of the accused.

Opening a trial transcript at random, I chose the first accused I saw mentioned - Scott Masterson. Checking every reference to Mr Masterson in the 40 transcripts tells us what the jury heard about him over nine painstaking weeks.

The jury's verdict was based on evidence, not their feelings about people or their political affiliations. And that standard should apply to everyone involved - including the gardai.

Hard questions need to be asked about some of the Garda evidence. However, throwing accusations of perjury at every garda present, or any, is to stoop to the low standards displayed by some politicians and some in the media.

Instead, we must respect the same standard for the Jobstown gardai as we demanded for the Jobstown protesters - innocent until proven guilty. When the establishment trash basic values - equality before the law, proportionate charges - let the people uphold them. Scott Masterson, the jury heard, was born in 1983. He bought the family home in Tallaght and lives there still, in the house where he was reared. His partner Stephanie is a dental nurse. They have two daughters.

Mr Masterson owns a distribution business. He was 31 in 2014.

Joan Burton arrived at Jobstown for an education event, at 11.40am on November 15, 2014.

Her Labour Party took an anti-austerity stand in the 2011 election and once elected it applied damaging austerity with fervour. Some of us were affected only in our pockets - but austerity policies cut deep into working-class communities.

Word spread that Burton was in the area and by 11.55am a spontaneous protest had erupted. Burton had already been hit by a water balloon, so she and her assistant sat in an unmarked Garda Avensis. They later moved to a jeep. At all stages, large numbers of gardai were present.

Protesters gathered, some staged a sit-down, preventing the Garda vehicles from leaving.

Some brought a calm political demeanour to the protest, others were livid. Some, like Paul Murphy TD, negotiated with gardai and sought through votes to win support for agreed action. Others screamed unrelenting abuse.

Scott Masterson arrived at 12.23. He was one of those surrounding the Avensis. He stood behind the car. He later sat on the ground behind the Avensis and sat on the ground in front of the jeep. He linked arms with others. He chanted slogans.

Water balloons and eggs were thrown at gardai. Masterson was not involved. As some threw things, others shouted at them to "calm the f*** down".

Crude language accompanied aroused emotions. "C***" and "b****" were among the epithets thrown at Burton. Masterson was not involved.

Some protesters banged their fists on the Avensis. One garda gave evidence that Scott Masterson banged both hands, palms open, on the back of the car. Masterson denied this.

Despite a huge amount of video, at no stage was Masterson seen banging on the car. No other garda saw what the one garda said he saw.

That was the case against Scott Masterson.

Three months later, on February 9, 2015, six gardai arrived at Masterson's home at 6.55am. They'd come to arrest him. They made no attempt to contact Masterson before this, as is usually the procedure.

Masterson was making lunch for his two daughters. He rang his partner, who had left the house, to ask her to take care of the children. He called up the stairs to tell the nine-year old to stay there, not to come down.

Masterson was arrested at 6.58am. The four-year-old girl was with him when he was arrested. He was handcuffed.

Asked at trial why Masterson was handcuffed, a garda said: "for his own protection".

The four-year-old became upset. A female garda said Masterson could go to her to console her. He was then taken away. By 7.10am he was in Tallaght Garda Station.

He might have been charged with obstruction, or some minor public order offence - instead, the State chose to mount a charge of false imprisonment, with a potential sentence of life in prison.

At all stages Burton and her assistant, Karen O'Connell, were in the protection of the gardai, some of them armed. The protesters obstructed the vehicles but did not control anything.

The jury was shown that as the jeep moved slowly away Masterson was at one stage between 30 and 50 feet ahead of the people he was supposedly falsely imprisoning, with a three-deep phalanx of gardai in between.

Three gardai said on oath they heard Paul Murphy TD ask people to vote on keeping Burton immobile "for the night".

This was shown, on video, to be untrue. As a result, the judge had to tell the jury that video was primary evidence. If it conflicted with verbal evidence, it was more reliable. This undermined the Garda evidence.

However, even had this not happened, it's hard to see how a competent, fair jury could find Masterson other than innocent, given the lack of inculpatory evidence against him.

The same can be taken to apply to the other accused.

It cannot be ignored that the anger at austerity centred on water charges. This forced the dropping of a pet Fine Gael policy, with clear intention to privatise the water supply. The campaign, and the consequent 2016 election result, destabilised the comfortable FG/FF (with occasional Labour) set-up.

It cannot be ignored that the choice of charges, the selection of defendants and the dawn raids scream politics, politics, politics - the establishment striking back.

The verdict was disparaged by some. They said the jury spent "only" three hours considering verdicts. Given the weakness of the evidence and the gravity of the charges, three hours was plenty.

The evidence suggests the jury was both competent and fair. They were not swept away by the crudity of some of the protests, they were not unquestioning when faced with Garda evidence. They appear to have measured the evidence against the requirements of such serious charges.

Much commentary has been reckless, class-ridden and contemptuous of the law.

It would be wrong to jump to ungrounded conclusions about Garda evidence. It would be just as wrong to ignore the implications of its unreliability.

When Leo Varadkar mentioned this aspect of the case - which is all he did - some went berserk. Even to mention that Garda evidence proved unreliable was disloyal.

This criticism provoked Varadkar into proving his loyalty to the establishment by slagging off the protesters in gross terms. Stunningly, he said the following: "I was particularly struck by the moment when a vote was taken as to whether the two women should be detained all night." It was this, he said, that showed him it was not a peaceful protest.

This incident didn't happen. The evidence on this was discredited by video - and with it went the Garda credibility.

If Varadkar paid so little attention to the case that he didn't know this, what was his previous implicit criticism of the Garda based on?

It appears the Taoiseach is addicted to the cheap headline.

He lacks the will or ability to familiarise himself with issues on which he denounces others.

The establishment betrayed the principles it supposedly values. The jury took those principles seriously.

Sunday Independent

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