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I saw two gardai punch prisoner before death, says former colleague

AN ex-garda accused two of his former colleagues of violently assaulting a prisoner half an hour before his death, while giving evidence at Dublin Coroner's Court.

Garreth Mullen accused Sergeant Damien Deegan and Garda Colin Hetherington from Tallaght Garda Station of launching an unprovoked attack on a prisoner, punching him several times. He also alleged that the three men then colluded to cover up the assault.

He was giving evidence at yesterday's inquest into the death of Antonio Nunes (38) from the Killinarden Estate in Tallaght, Dublin 24, at Tallaght Garda Station on April 20, 2010.

Mr Nunes was found slumped in his cell and did not respond to intensive attempts at resuscitation at the station and at Tallaght Hospital.

He had been arrested outside his home shortly before his death. A number of witnesses, including his mother Mary Nunes, said that he had spent the afternoon on the green across from the house drinking and "roaring and shouting".

He was sitting on an ESB box and was observed falling over several times by neighbours. He was also involved in an altercation with this brother, Alvario Nunes, where both men fell over. Mr Nunes co-operated with gardai and was transported to the station without incident.

The court also heard that on the night before he died Mr Nunes was involved in an incident where an unidentified man punched him in the face outside the No 79 pub in Ballyfermot.

In his initial statement to the Garda Ombudsman, Mr Mullen made no mention of an assault. However, seven months later he changed his statement significantly. He told investigators that Mr Nunes was agitated at the station and Sgt Deegan began to punch him while pushing him into the cell.

He claimed that Garda Hetherington then joined in and that both men punched Mr Nunes three or four times.

"I didn't participate in it and I didn't attempt to stop it. I suppose I was shocked and it all happened in such a short time frame," he said.

Following the incident, the three men met up to discuss what they should put in their statement to the Garda Ombudsman, he claimed.


Both Sgt Deegan and Garda Hetherington strongly denied that any assault had taken place. Sgt Deegan said that they used controlled force to place Mr Nunes on the bed where they held him by the shoulders and hands.

"It is absolutely untrue and it wouldn't have been possible with the way we were holding him down," he said.

Mr Mullen has since resigned from the force. He had his probationary period extended following an incident where he was found to have made false entries in a diary kept as part of his training. Mr Mullen denied that this was the reason he had changed his statement.

Coroner Dr Brian Farrell adjourned the inquest for further hearing on April 4.