Teacher’s career ‘destroyed’ when prison found phone in bra

Woman sues after losing security clearance when mobile detected at Mountjoy Prison

Katherine Boyle claims she forgot she left her mobile phone in her bra strap before going through Mountjoy Prison’s screening process. She has been unable to work in the prison service since her clearance was revoked. File photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Katherine Boyle claims she forgot she left her mobile phone in her bra strap before going through Mountjoy Prison’s screening process. She has been unable to work in the prison service since her clearance was revoked. File photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

 

A teacher has sued alleging her career in the prison services was “destroyed” after a mobile phone was detected in her bra strap when passing through a security check at the Mountjoy Prison complex.

Katherine Boyle, an employee of Dublin VEC who taught in the prison system for 15 years, claims she lost her security clearance after she forgot she left her phone in her bra strap before going through the security check.

The High Court heard she caused a scanner to beep three times before she entered St Patrick’s Institution on the morning of September 3rd, 2008. Once she realised the phone was setting off the scanner, she removed it from her clothing and gave it to a prison officer who provided her with a tag before she proceeded into St Patrick’s, she said.

She claims she usually left her phone at home or in her car but it was on her person because she needed it earlier that morning for contact with a person who was to view a friend’s apartment available to rent. She had left it in her strap so she could easily access it if it rang while she was driving to work, she said.

When she arrived at the prison, she also went to speak to a colleague and had forgotten about the phone before going through the screening process.

The following day she was informed the matter was subject to an inquiry by senior prison staff and she later had to give a report to the Prison Service.

Newspaper article

On September 9th, 2008, a newspaper article appeared under the headline “Phone In Bra Jail Smuggler busted”, the court heard.

The article said a prison worker, not an officer, had been suspended after being caught trying to smuggle an illegal mobile phone into a jail hidden inside her bra. That was a distortion of what had occurred, Ms Boyle said.

On October 1st, 2008, she was told the investigation had been completed and her access to St Patrick’s had been withdrawn.

Arising out of that, Ms Boyle, Donagher’s Lane, Prosperous, Co Kildare, has sued the governor of St Patrick’s Institution, the Irish Prison Services, Minister for Justice and the State seeking damages, including punitive and exemplary damages, for personal injuries allegedly suffered.

It is claimed the article breached Ms Boyle’s rights including to privacy, fair procedures and to be employed freely within the State. The Prison Service should not have disclosed the material to the media, it is claimed.

The claims are denied.

Opening the case, Jacqueline O’Brien SC, with John Nolan, said Ms Boyle “willingly handed over” the mobile telephone when she realised it was on her person and was “utterly humiliated” by the article.

While she was not named in the article, counsel said it was well known it was Ms Boyle being referred to and she was “constantly reminded” of the matter which ultimately was “the death knell” of her career as a prison teacher.

Clearance revoked

She had been working in the prison service since 1993 without incident and hoped to be promoted to deputy principal at another prison but, after her security clearance was revoked, her career was “destroyed” and she could no longer work within the prison system.

Ms Boyle had passed through a new security screening system introduced to prevent mobile phones being used by prisoners after a prisoner, John Daly, had rang RTÉ’s Liveline programme from Portlaoise Prison in 2007, counsel said.

Ms Boyle’s security clearance was removed without her being given a chance to make representations and, despite several requests, CCTV of the 2008 incident was only provided by the defendants in November 2014, counsel added.

Ms Boyle’s trade union, the TUI, supported her case but its bid to appeal the decision to revoke her clearance was refused and she now works with members of the Irish Travelling Community.

While Ms Boyle is a resilient person, she has suffered stress and anxiety due to the way she was treated, counsel added. The case continues before Mr Justice Anthony Barr.