A Garda sergeant has told the High Court he did not see any assaults by gardaí on three men during a protest against the Shell Corrib gas refinery in north Mayo.
There were pushing and shoving by both gardaí and protesters as a convoy of Shell workers approached the refinery early on January 19th 2007, Sgt Dermot Butler said.
He was present when two fishermen, brothers Patrick and Martin O’Donnell, approached a garda filming the protest and asked him to record their injuries, said Sgt Butler, stationed in Belmullet.
He was aware that another local man, Patrick Coyle, made a complaint at Belmullet Garda station later that day alleging he was assaulted by two gardaí.
Sgt Butler agreed with Micheál P O’Higgins SC, for the three men, that there was “objective evidence” of injuries to them.
He said certain protocols applied when a complaint was made about a garda, he was not involved in investigating the men’s complaints and the senior officer in charge of the protest was an inspector who was not in court.
Sgt Butler understood a sergeant who investigated the men’s complaints of assault later recommended to the DPP the three men be prosecuted. They were later charged with assault and breach of the peace and acquitted on all charges, the court heard.
He rejected a suggestion by Mr O’Higgins that a decision was made to use the criminal process to “take out” the men’s allegations of assault against gardaí.
Garda Finbarr Thomas, stationed in Tuam, said he was among the gardaí policing the protest on January 19th, 2007, and the crowd “got a bit boisterous” as the convoy approached the refinery. One protester tried to cross the centre road line and refused to move back when Garda
asked him to and lunged at Garda Lee when the garda pushed him back, he said.
He said Patrick O’Donnell came out of the crowd and pulled Garda Lee by the lapels into the body of the protesters. There was a “bit of a free for all” during which protesters lunged at Garda Lee who was trying to break free from Mr O’Donnell’s grasp, he said.
He said he also saw Martin O’Donnell and Patrick Coyle “swinging punches”, there were “fists flying everywhere”, it all happened in 10-14 seconds and Garda Lee was pulled out of the crowd.
Under cross-examination by Mr O’Higgins, he said he did not see Garda Lee strike Patrick O’Donnell and said Garda Lee could not do so as Mr O’Donnell was holding his arms.
When counsel said Garda Lee did not have a single mark to his head or face and that “gave the lie” to the claim he was being punched by protesters in the head and body, Garda Thomas said Garda Lee had his head down trying to protect himself.
Garda Thomas also said he did not see Garda Peter Lee strike Mr Coyle.
The two gardaí were the first witnesses called on behalf of the Garda Commissioner and State for their defence of the civil actions by Martin and Patrick O’Donnell of Porturlin Shore, Ballina and Patrick Coyle, a farmer, of Barnatra, Ballina, over alleged assaults on them by gardaí during the protest.
The cases continue today before Mr Justice Paul McDermott and a jury.