Judge’s Garda comments key to dropping of Jobstown charges

DPP was advised that convictions were unlikely after judge questioned evidence of gardaí

Comments by the judge in the Jobstown trial earlier this year about the reliability of garda evidence heavily influenced the decision to drop almost all the other charges in relation to the protest, The Irish Times has learned.

On Monday the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) withdrew all counts of false imprisonment and violent disorder relating to the anti-water charges protests in the south Dublin suburb on November 15th, 2014.

Counsel for the DPP told the court that the case against 10 of the accused was over. Six of the accused had been due to go on trial on Monday, while the remaining five were due to face trial next year.

There is now only one charge outstanding, a single accusation of criminal damage against Dylan Collins (22) of Bawnlea Green, Tallaght, who is alleged to have smashed the window of a garda car. His case will be heard on November 20th.

Supporters of the those acquitted burst into cheers, and of them sounded an air horn, after Judge Melanie Greally formally struck out the charges in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

A large group in court also chanted calls for a public inquiry into the previous trial which saw six protesters, including Solidarity TD Paul Murphy, acquitted of falsely imprisoning then-tánaiste Joan Burton and her advisor Karen O'Connell in their car during the protest.

Lied under oath

The group alleges gardaí lied under oath about aspects of the protest and that garda evidence was contradicted on several key points by video footage taken at the scene.

During that trial Judge Greally instructed the jury that if there was conflict between evidence from the gardaí and the video evidence, the jurors should rely on the video evidence.

Following the acquittals last June, the DPP ordered a full review of the evidence and commissioned a legal opinion on whether the remaining trials would have any chance of resulting in convictions.

The Irish Times understands that this legal opinion stated that the comments of Judge Greally regarding the discrepancies between garda and video evidence rendered the prospect of convictions unlikely.

The gardaí involved in the first trial would have been required to give evidence in the remaining two trials. The DPP took the view that the judge’s comments would be used effectively by defence lawyers during future cross-examinations of gardaí to raise doubts about the veracity of the their testimony.

It also took the view that other juries were unlikely to reach different verdicts than the one reached in the first trial, given the evidence before them.

In the aftermath of the acquittals there was commentary by public figures, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, about the truthfulness of the garda evidence. These comments had caused concern within the prosecution but were not a factor in the final decision to drop the charges, a DPP source said.

Leaking of information

Meanwhile, a garda inquiry into the leaking of information in 2015 about who would be charged in relation to the protests is ongoing.

In August 2015 Mr Murphy wrote to the Garda Commissioner complaining about the “leaking” of information to the media that he would be one of about 20 people charged in connection with the protests.

In recent weeks those involved in the case, including lawyers and gardaí, have been interviewed by gardaí about the alleged leaks.

Outside the court building one Monday, one of the accused, Peter Herbert, speaking on behalf of the protesters, said that they would continue to demand a public inquiry into the prosecution and to campaign for the overturning of a guilty verdict delivered against a teenaged protester in October 2016.

The youth – aged 15 at the time of the protest – was discharged conditionally on good behaviour for nine months so he would not have a criminal record.

This ruling, the only guilty verdict returned in relation to the protest, is being appealed.

On Monday false imprisonment charges against Carol Purcell (58), Declan Kane (49), Glen Carney (22), Keith Preston (38), Thomas Kelly (35), Paul Kiernan (39) and Peter Herbert (66) Adam Lyons (22) and Mr Collins were withdrawn.

The DPP also withdrew violent disorder charges in the cases of Antoinette Kane (24) and Calvin Carlyle (20) and criminal damage charges against Mr Lyons.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times