A teacher found to have a mobile telephone in her bra strap when going through a security check at the Mountjoy Prison complex has lost her high Court action for damages.
Mr Justice Anthony Barr dismissed Katherine Boyle's claim against the Governor of St Patrick's Institution, Irish Prison Services, Minister for Justice and the State arising from the incident on September 3rd, 2008.
Ms Boyle, an employee of Dublin VEC who had taught in the prison system for 15 years, was teaching at St Patrick’s institution for young offenders. The incident occurred when she was passing through a security screening unit at the entrance of the prison complex. She claimed she forgot she had the phone on her person.
Following an investigation into the matter, her security clearance allowing her enter the prison was revoked and she no longer works in the prison system.
In her action, Ms Boyle alleged details of the incident were leaked to Irish Daily Star journalist Michael O'Toole who wrote an article published on September 9th, 2008 under the headline 'Phone In Bra Jail Smuggler busted'. It said an unnamed prison worker had been suspended after being caught trying to smuggle an illegal mobile phone into a jail hidden inside her bra.
Ms Boyle claimed the article distorted what had occurred and alleged the defendants breached her rights including to privacy, fair procedures and to be employed freely within the State. The article, she alleged, was deliberately leaked to paint the prison service and new security system in a good light.
Ms Boyle, Donagher’s Lane, Prosperous, Co Kildare sought damages, including punitive damages, for personal injuries allegedly suffered as a result. She claimed she suffered anxiety, stress as well as financial loss and damage.
The claims were denied by the defendants.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Barr said he was not satisfied the information which was supplied to the journalist “constituted confidential information, the disclosure of which would give rise to a claim in damages”.
Even if wrong on that point, he was satisfied none of the defendants deliberately leaked or authorised the leak of the information to the journalist. He was also not satisfied the leak must have come from a prison officer.
Evidence was given during the lengthy hearing that a number of teachers “knew of the incident before the article was published”, the judge said. There had been “rumours concerning the incident” which were heard by the teaching staff at another prison before the article appeared.
“The leak could have come from a prison officer or from a member of staff in St Patrick’s Institution or from a third party such as a prisoner who overheard conversations relating to the incident,” the judge said.
Even if the leak came from a prison officer, the judge said he was satisfied this was outside the scope of their authority and was not closely connected to the work prison officers are employed to do within the prison.
In the circumstances, Ms Boyle had failed to establish the defendants were vicariously liable and he dismissed the case.
Previously, when evidence ended in the case, the defendants applied to have it dismissed on grounds of alleged lack of candour by Ms Boyle.
Refusing that application, the judge said, while there were areas where her evidence was contradicted by the defendants, this fell short of the type of dishonesty that would warrant a dismissal of her case on such grounds.