Judge warns Garda on ‘double jeopardy’
Garda found guilty of stealing tax disc from his station and using it on his own car
Judge seeks undertaking force will not take disciplinary proceedings. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
A judge has criticised Garda authorities after hearing they might now bring internal disciplinary proceedings against a garda after prosecuting him for stealing a tax disc from his station and using it on his own car.
At Dublin District Court yesterday, Judge Hugh O’Donnell said the tax disc was worthless by the time charges were brought against Tallaght-based Garda Damien Dempsey.
He compared the possibility of him having to face disciplinary proceedings to “double jeopardy” and threatened to throw out the case against the garda, who has told the court that he barely had enough money to feed himself.
Garda Dempsey (44), who has more than 20 years of service, had admitted not having his 01-registered Lexus taxed.
He had pleaded not guilty to not having motor insurance, fraudulently using the stolen tax disc on his vehicle on April 23rd and theft of the disc between July 12th last year and April 23rd this year, but he was found guilty by Judge O’Donnell after a hearing last Monday .
When the case resumed yesterday, Judge O’Donnell said the tax disc was worthless. He said there was a facility in the Garda Síochána to bring a disciplinary action against an officer. “It was obviously decided by someone not to use it,” he said.
As a result of the prosecution, Garda Dempsey “had his name spread all over the papers and his character has been tarnished”, the judge said. “I am told he is a garda with 20-plus years of service with commendations, I do not know why it was chosen to go this route.”
He indicated that he would apply the Probation Act in respect of the theft charge, at which point Micheál O’Connor, defending, said the case would still result in his client facing disciplinary proceedings.
Judge O’Donnell said he believed that would be improper; he then asked if it was going to happen, before saying that he would strike out the case if the garda faced disciplinary proceedings after the court case.
Garda Insp George McGeary told the judge that there were provisions for Garda members to face both internal disciplinary proceedings as well as prosecution in court.
“That is double jeopardy,” replied the judge, who added that it would be “inherently unfair and unjust”. He stressed that he was not critical of Insp McGeary but was of the system.
The judge then demanded an undertaking that there would be no disciplinary action taken against Garda Dempsey which Garda Insp McGeary said he was unable to give.
The judge then agreed to defer finalising the case to allow an officer from the Garda disciplinary section to come to court.
Earlier, Judge O’Donnell had been told the stolen tax disc was meant for an official Garda motorcycle and had been kept on file in the office of Garda Sgt Ronan Lawlor. It went missing in July last year and an investigation was launched when it was found last April in a station bin.
In an interview with an inspector, Garda Dempsey admitted that what he had done was wrong and stupid but “theft never entered my head”. When he realised a Garda inspector was investigating the theft, “it hit me like a ton of bricks”.
Garda Dempsey, who has no prior criminal convictions, had worked in the drugs area of community policing in Tallaght, the court heard.
He told Judge O’Donnell his marriage had broken down three years ago and he was left paying a mortgage and other loans of €2,500 a month on his own. He enjoyed being a garda and never intended it to be a theft. He had been unable to get rid of the car and it was kept parked at all times at the Plaza complex car park in Tallaght.
“Word got out there was going to be spot checks,” he said, before adding “I did not have money for it, barely have the money to feed myself.”
He took the disc from his sergeant’s office when the tax ran out on his own car which he claimed he left parked up at all times. He was not “in the right place mentally” and suffered from financial stress and anxiety, and ulcers. Mr O’Connor pleaded for leniency and said his client had a future ahead of him and had co-operated with the investigation, but the prosecution could have serious implications for him.