The day after the verdicts in the Jobstown protest trial The Irish Times fulminated over the use of social media to support the defendants. The front page headlined not the jury's landmark not-guilty verdicts but the fact that my colleague Paul Murphy TD had retweeted comments by supporters during the trial.
"Campaigners produced partisan running commentary on the trial," claimed the editorial. No mention that the bulk of the mass media was highly partisan and hostile to the protesters from the very first day, when the protest happened, November 15th, 2014. The Irish Times itself on November 22nd headlined an article: "Burton associate 'kicked and beaten' in Jobstown protest". It quoted Irish Congress of Trade Unions general secretary David Begg: "I happened to know one of the people who was in the tánaiste's car . . . a young woman and she was very badly kicked and beaten by some of these people." It never happened.
Denouncing social media reporting by #Jobstown Not Guilty and Solidarity, the Irish Times editorial claims: "The media reports only what the jury can see and hear." The truth is the media covers some of "what the jury can see and hear" and in the Jobstown trial that was often judiciously chosen to be highly detrimental to the defendants. After Joan Burton's first day on the witness stand, the headlines in the seven national newspapers quoted from her one hour of testimony to the prosecution that she was "running for her life".
During three hours of defence cross-examination, the former tánaiste and Labour Party leader was asked why there was such boiling anger against her in Jobstown and about Labour’s egregious betrayal of the solemn promises it had made during the 2011 general election campaign to protect ordinary people from water charges and other serious burdens of austerity. She claimed she had not heard one of the most frequently used words of protest on the day, “traitor”.
Scarcely a word of this made it into the big majority of the next day's newspapers. The Irish Times report had the main headline, three prominent subheadings and 127 column lines dealing with the prosecution angle and seven lines covering the issues raised by the defence.
Is it credible that, by innocent coincidence, three gardaí "heard" the same critical question that, according to what was clearly shown on video, Murphy never uttered?
After the trial, the Irish Times editorial said it had been a "surreal legal spectacle", "not to say disturbing", because of social-media reporting. I was in court all day every day. The "surreal" and the "disturbing" certainly featured but it was overwhelmingly related to the evidence given by a trail of Garda witnesses.
A Garda driver in his written statement claimed Murphy had been on a megaphone in the ground of St Thomas’s church in Jobstown “directing people where to stand”, implying that he was the organiser of a spontaneous protest. In court the garda then said Murphy, by “gestures and body language”, had been directing people. Neither version was supported by the video evidence.
Seán Guerin SC, for Murphy, challenged him: “You wanted to establish that Mr Murphy was guilty of an offence . . . and you wanted him responsible for the behaviour of other people . . . because you wanted to fix him with responsibility in law for their behaviour.” The garda denied that this was the case.
A Garda superintendent, a Garda inspector and a Garda sergeant claimed in court that, on the occasion of a vote of protesters on Fortunestown Road on what course of action to take, Murphy asked them in relation to Burton: “Will we keep her here all night?” However, a video of that episode showed no evidence of Murphy having said this. In fact he voted to march the car to the Tallaght bypass.
A number of Garda witnesses under questioning, including these ones, denied giving inaccurate or incomplete evidence. However, is it credible that, by innocent coincidence, three gardaí “heard” the same critical question that, according to what was clearly shown on video, Murphy never uttered? Especially since this memory could convict him?
Another garda told the jury Murphy had presided over “a unanimous decision to keep her there” referring to Burton. Confronted with the same video footage showing Murphy voting against such a proposal, he claimed he thought the word “unanimous” meant “by a majority”.
The superintendent had also claimed in his written statement that Murphy “was chanting and as a consequence of what he was saying the protesters became more animated and aggressive. Missiles began to be thrown at gardaí. I observed sticks, stones and eggs hitting gardaí and the Garda Jeep.’’ When queried by Murphy’s counsel as to why he had not repeated this claim when being led through his evidence by the prosecution, the superintendent replied: “I suppose in one respect – if it’s trying to be fair to him.”
This led Mr Guerin to challenge that “making Mr Murphy responsible for the violence of others, which you were reluctant to make on oath, was part of a pattern evident also in the behaviour of other gardaí. Is that because you were in fact part of a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice?” Again the garda denied that this was the case and insisted his statements had been fair.
The judge in the collapsed Fitzpatrick Anglo trial stated that the investigation had fallen short of an unbiased, impartial and balanced investigation and had failed to seek out evidence as to the innocence as well as the guilt of the accused. That also sums up the Jobstown investigation.
We then had Garda witnesses contradicted by video evidence. This could have led to a serious miscarriage of justice had the jury had not seen through it.
Shouldn't it be clear that there is ample reason here to launch an independent inquiry into the Garda investigation and conduct? Why aren't journalists and editorial writers raising this "in the public interest"? Shouldn't it be clear also that the facts of the matter should speak loudly to the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to the credibility of proceeding with trials of more defendants based on the same investigation and witnesses?
Joe Higgins is a Solidarity activist and former Socialist Party TD and MEP