A man who spent 26 days in prison after being arrested by immigration authorities while travelling on a bus from Belfast to Dublin has been awarded €7,500 compensatory damages.
In the High Court, Ms Justice Mary Faherty ruled the man, a failed asylum seeker, was entitled to compensatory damages over being wrongly deprived of his liberty for 26 days and for a two-hour delay in releasing him after the Supreme Court ruled his detention was unlawful due to defects in the detention warrant.
Rejecting arguments by the State he should get only a nominal award of one euro, she could not accept his period of false imprisonment should be viewed as a “lesser infringement” of the constitutional guarantee to personal liberty since it only came about because of “omissions of a technical nature”.
In assessing compensatory damages at €7,500, the judge said she was taking certain credibility issues into account including that the man, who claimed to be from Sierra Leone but who gardaí believe is Nigerian, was "less than forthcoming" about his nationality.
Based on other findings, including that there was “nothing unsavoury” in the Garda investigation into the man’s status, the judge found he was not entitled to aggravated or exemplary damages.
Gardaí acted properly at all times in a situation where they had before them a non-national coming into the State without identity documents, she said.
She did not find credible his explanation for giving two different addresses in Dublin and Cork for his residence here was because he felt intimidated by gardaí.
The man came to Ireland in 2008, was refused asylum in 2009 and refused subsidiary protection in late August 2011.
On August 1st 2011, while on an Ulster Bus travelling to Dublin, he was arrested near Dundalk by gardaí acting as immigration officers. He was refused leave to land in the State and detained overnight at Dundalk Garda station. On his release the next day, he was rearrested and taken to Cloverhill Prison.
The High Court rejected his challenge to the legality of his detention but, on appeal, the Supreme Court ruled on August 26th, 2011 his detention was unlawful for reasons including the detention warrant did not state the fact of the refusal to land.
The man was released at 3pm on August 26th but was immediately re-arrested and detained under a further detention order, dated that same day.
His lawyers went to the High Court which ruled the two-hour delay in releasing him on August 26th was unlawful but his subsequent arrest and detention was lawful. He was released from custody on September 22nd, 2011 after the Nigerian embassy did not issue a travel pass for him.
In 2013, he took civil proceedings in the High Court against the Garda Commissioner, Governor of Cloverhill Prison and the State, claiming damages for false imprisonment from August 1st to 26th, 2011, including the period from 12.40pm to 3pm on August 26th, 2011. He said his experience in prison was horrible and depressing, he lost his appetite, was unable to sleep and was nervous and anxious.
The defendants denied false imprisonment, said he had illegally entered the state on August 1st 2011 and they were lawfully entitled to arrest and detain him for the purpose of deportation.
A deportation order signed in respect of him in August 2015 stated he had failed to produce any documents to support his claim of being from Sierra Leone but would be returned to Nigeria only if and when the Nigerian authorities accepted he was a Nigerian national.