Death of colleague had ‘devastating effect’ on gardaí in Buncrana

Charleton tribunal hears of Pulse use by garda who felt he was ‘under surveillance’

Garda whistleblower Keith Harrison with his partner Marissa Simms: was transferred to Donegal town after revelation. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Garda whistleblower Keith Harrison with his partner Marissa Simms: was transferred to Donegal town after revelation. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

 

A retired garda sergeant told the Charleton tribunal on Monday that the death of a colleague in the line of duty had “a devastating effect” on officers in Buncrana, Co Donegal.

Retired garda sergeant Daniel Devlin said “emotionally, everyone was badly affected” after Garda Gary McLoughlin was killed when he was hit by a car driven by Martin McDermott, who was later found guilty of manslaughter.

Mr Devlin said that, in March 2011 – a few weeks before the trial – he learned about the connection between McDermott and Garda Keith Harrison, whose partner Marissa Simms was a sister of McDermott.

In its current module, the tribunal is looking at contacts between gardaí and Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, in relation to Garda Harrison.

“It was only a few weeks before the trial. Emotions in the unit were a bit taut at that time with that coming up,” Mr Devlin said.

Mr Devlin said Garda Harrison made an address to gardaí at the station after the connection emerged. “He in a way maybe was apologising for not disclosing it earlier,” Mr Devlin said.

Disclosing connection

Mr Devlin said Garda Harrison also told him privately he was very happy working in Buncrana, and the longer he stayed the more difficult it had become to disclose the connection. Following the revelation, Garda Harrison was transferred to Donegal town.

Mr Devlin said Garda Harrison’s work was “very good” and he was not aware of him being victimised in any way.

The connection came to light after Garda Harrison reported an incident in Churchill, Co Donegal, of alleged domestic violence between his partner Marissa Simms and her ex-husband. Garda Peter Kearins, who responded to the call in Churchill, said that when he got to the scene, he “didn’t believe that threat was as serious as it had been made out to be”.

Tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton said there had been “a threat of violence” and gardaí were obliged to respond.

Earlier on Monday, the tribunal heard Garda Harrison used the Garda computer system Pulse to check on Ms Simms in the wake of an anonymous letter in early 2012 which led to a HSE inquiry into the welfare of her children.

Retired chief superintendent James Sheridan said that after he received reports of “a multiplicity of checks”, he issued a directive on data protection to all officers in the region, and met Garda Harrison. “He could not give me any valid reason for conducting the checks on Marissa Simms and he gave me an assurance that he would cease,” Mr Sheridan said.

Senior counsel Mark Harty SC, for Garda Harrison, said the figure of “over 30” Pulse checks was inaccurate, and at the time in question there were 22 checks, dating from 2007.

He said Garda Harrison made the majority of checks to see who else was making entries relating to Ms Simms, and “he believed at the time that they were under surveillance, both he and Ms Simms”.

Asked by the chairman, Mr Justice Peter Charleton, if Garda Harrison was under surveillance, Mr Sheridan replied: “Absolutely not.”

The tribunal resumes on Tuesday.