A judge has adjourned sentencing a Dublin-based detective garda, who attacked a man “taking selfies” in a bar, pending a probation and restorative justice report.
Robert Hennessy was found guilty of assaulting social care worker and abuse campaigner Michael Finnegan, 40, who was repeatedly punched in the face in Café en Seine on Dawson Street, Dublin, on December 11th, 2019.
The detective garda, from a unit involved in surveillance work, denied the charge but was convicted by Judge John Hughes at Dublin District Court in November. He was prosecuted following a Garda Ombudsman (Gsoc) investigation.
The officer did not testify, but in his statement to Gsoc, he claimed he was stressed and feared Mr Finnegan would “out” him and his colleagues.
On Tuesday, defence solicitor Elizabeth Hughes furnished the court with testimonials and outlined commendations her client had received in his 23-year career in An Garda Síochána.
The solicitor asked the judge to note he had an unblemished record, he had feared for their safety, and that they would be professionally embarrassed on the night of the incident.
The court heard Mr Finnegan, from Crumlin, Dublin, did not want the defendant to lose his job.
The detective instructed the solicitor to extend an apology to the victim. She implored the judge to consider the impact on her client and an outcome that would leave him without a recorded conviction.
Judge Hughes adjourned the case until June 4th for the probation report.
During the hearing, he heard how Mr Finnegan catalogued his life through photos he uploaded to Twitter or Instagram. The judge believed that Mr Finnegan was surreptitiously observing the off-duty gardaí and using his phone to take pictures or videos. He noted a barman’s evidence that he was “more than tipsy”.
However, he held it was not a case of self-defence, and the garda could not attack someone for taking photos.
Mr Finnegan’s victim impact statement stated it left him in terror and anxious.
The court had heard he had finished his first exams at Trinity College and went for a drink in Café en Seine. He said he was happy and taking selfie pictures on his phone, and there were two attractive women in their 30s. He “made an attempt to chat them up” but did not know their occupation; he said the accused then came over and identified himself as a garda.
He alleged the Det Gda Hennessy chatted to him but was “under the influence” and very aggressive and that he was punched by him several times. It left him in pain and dizzy, with blood coming out of his mouth and a split lip.
CCTV footage of the assault was played in court.
Cross-examined, he denied videoing, taking pictures of the Garda group, or telling them, “Youse would want to watch yourself, a group of intelligence officers on the town together you wouldn’t know what would happen to you”.
In court, when questioned about his demeanour in the video evidence, he said that was due to being constantly hyper-vigilant as a result of being attacked as a child.
Questioned about his failure to hand over his phone to gardaí and later Gsoc, Mr Finnegan said he feared he might be in trouble and that it was a result of mental health issues, including PTSD, which he has suffered from for years.
Mr Finnegan is an abuse survivor and whistleblower who has highlighted child sexual abuse allegations in St John Ambulance.