Solidarity TD Paul Murphy and five others were found not guilty on Thursday of the false imprisonment of former Labour Party leader Joan Burton and her assistant during a water charges protest in 2014.
The six had faced charges of the false imprisonment of Ms Burton and her then assistant Karen O'Connell, on November 15th, 2014, on the Fortunestown Road, Jobstown, Tallaght, Dublin.
The jury announced its decision just after midday and after slightly less than three hours of deliberations.
Mr Murphy was the first of the accused to hear the jury’s verdict, and there was huge cheering and clapping in the packed courtroom when it was announced that he had been found not guilty. The courtroom then quietened as the jury forewoman announced the verdict in relation to the other accused. When the last verdict was announced, there was more loud cheering and clapping.
Some people stood and clapped, others gave a thumbs up to the jury, and some cried. Others chanted “No way, we won’t pay” in reference to opposition to water charges.
Friends and partners rushed to the accused and embraced them. All of the verdicts were unanimous.
Mr Murphy, of Kingswood Heights, Tallaght, was one of six men who had pleaded not guilty to the false imprisonment of Ms Burton and Ms O’Connell, by restricting their personal liberty without their consent, on November 15th, 2014.
Apart from Mr Murphy, the other accused were Solidarity councillors Kieran Mahon, Bolbrook Grove, Tallaght and Michael Murphy, Whitechurch Way, Ballyboden; Scott Masterson, Carrigmore Drive, Tallaght; Frank Donaghy, of Alpine Rise, Belgard Heights, Tallaght; and Michael Banks, Brookview Green, Tallaght.
Judge Melanie Greally told the men they were free to go and thanked the jury for their work on what she said was a difficult trial. It began on April 26th, and lasted nine weeks.
The judge finished her charge to the jury on Wednesday afternoon.
It is understood that while some jurors thought there had been no false imprisonment of Ms Burton and Ms O’Connell, others felt there had been, but that it could not be said that the accused were responsible.
Good behaviour In October of last year, Judge John King decided in the non-jury Children’s Court that he was satisfied a schoolboy was guilty of the false imprisonment of Ms Burton during the Jobstown water charges protest.
However, he said he was discharging the youth conditionally on good behaviour for nine months. The teenager will not have a criminal record.
Earlier on Thursday, the jury asked to view video footage taken by a Garda helicopter on the day to consider the question of whether an SUV containing the former tánaiste Ms Burton could have reversed away from water charges protesters.
The trial has heard that, at one stage, gardaí in the helicopter suggested that the SUV might be able to reverse out of where it was being obstructed by an angry crowd of protesters.
In her charge to the jury, which she completed early on Wednesday afternoon, the judge said there were three possible exit routes which the jury might consider when assessing whether Ms Bruton, and Ms O’Connell, were falsely imprisoned during the Jobstown protest.
In her charge, the judge told the jury that in order for an offence of false imprisonment to occur, the persons affected must have no reasonable route available to them to exit where they are allegedly being detained.
The detention must be “total”, she explained.
The trial, which began on April 26th in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, lost one juror who had to withdraw for personal reasons.
Addressing the media and supporters outside the court building, Paul Murphy said that the ruling in the Children’s Court should now be overturned.
He said what had happened in court had been “disgusting”. Joan Burton had attempted to “criminalise a working class community”. He estimated that millions of euro had been spent trying to “criminalise sit down protest”.
The charges were an attempt to “cut across” the resurgence of the left and to pre-emptively “strike off at the legs” a broad section of the left and the working class people, who were getting organised. It was an attempt to “put people back in their box”.
He said the accused had “won this because of the campaign we had outside of court as well as inside of court”, and because they had had “a really good jury”.
Michael Banks read out a statement on behalf of all the men.
“We spent nine weeks in court and we’re now vindicated, can walk free from the courts proven to be protesters and not criminals,” he said.