The president of Maynooth University students' union has lost a €75,000 defamation action against the operators of Luas and the company that provides its security personnel amid claims of "racial profiling" in the policing of trams.
Leon Diop (23), of Ashgrove, Springfield, Tallaght, Co Dublin, claimed on Thursday that he and his brother, Adam, were passengers on the tram two years ago when two security men gestured for them to leave the train at a Luas stop despite their having shown them valid travel tickets.
Mr Diop told his counsel Peter Leonard that while they had been allowed to remain on the tram one of the security staff videoed them as they were being spoken to. Mr Diop had said to them that having been asked to produce tickets after other black youths had exited the tram was "slightly racial profiling".
Mr Leonard, who appeared in the Circuit Civil Court with Kevin Tunney Solicitors, told Judge Terence O’Sullivan that Mr Diop believed that having been gestured to leave the tram after inspection of their tickets had given others on the Luas the impression that they had not paid for their tickets and were committing an offence.
Mr Diop told the court he had said: “Just because we’re black lads doesn’t mean we’re with them”, referring to other black youths who had left the tram after running to the rear. When one of the security men had denied they were engaged in racial profiling, Mr Diop had said: “I’m pretty sure it is.”
He said one of the security men had said: “Here buddy, now listen. I don’t like your attitude. Just step off there please.” They had been allowed to stay on the tram and the security men had left at the next stop.
The judge was told, after viewing CCTV of the incident, that it was agreed one of the security men had said “the other lads” had been put off the trams three times that day. He had added there were 12 “other blokes” they had put off five different trams.
When barrister Eamon Marray, counsel for Transdev Dublin Light Rail and STT Risk Management, Ballina, Killaloe, Co Tipperary, asked Mr Diop what he thought had been defamatory Mr Diop replied: "It made me look like I was with a gang of youths. It made me look as if I was a troublesome person."
Mr Marray, who appeared with Hayes McGrath solicitors, said the evidence given by Mr Diop had not shown any cause of action.
The judge said clearly there were no words spoken that were defamatory.
The judge, in dismissing Mr Diop’s case, said he was obviously a very successful student and he may reasonably have felt there was some issue concerning black youths on the Luas not paying for tickets and that he was being picked on and made a complaint that he and his brother were being racially profiled.
The judge said the CCTV clearly showed the hand gestures and it looked as if he was being directed to leave. The court could see the logic behind asking passengers to step on to the platform to deal with situations without holding up the trams.
“This is a nice young man who was affronted and while the gesture may be defamatory on its face it is protected by qualified privilege,” the judge said.
“Racial profiling is not a tort [a wrong] that attracts damages in law and I must dismiss the claim.”
Mr Diop, a graduate of psychology through science, became students’ union president at Maynooth last year. His brother Adam, who had not brought a claim, has graduated in multimedia studies from DCU.