Garda Keith Harrison and Marissa Simms
At the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle.
The partner of Garda whistleblower Keith Harrison Marissa Simms, who has claimed to have raised concerns about a garda being involved in the distribution of drugs in Athlone in 2008, is continuing to give evidence.
Once finished, Garda Harrison will give evidence.
Garda Harrison is involved in the Disclosures Tribunal as he claims he has been targeted by senior officers and that Tusla social workers were “brought into the equation due to the manipulation of his situation and the extraction of an unfair and untrue series of allegations of serious domestic misconduct by his domestic partner“.
Supreme Court judge Peter Charleton, who is overseeing the proceedings, is specifically looking at the tribunal’s term of reference ’n’ – which is “to investigate contacts between members of An Garda Siochana and TUSLA in relation to Garda Keith Harrison”.
It follows a visit made by social worker Donna McTeague in early 2014 to the home of Ms Simms and Garda Harrison in Donegal in which Ms McTeague spoke with the children in the home – a visit which the couple claims has had a profound effect on them.
Yesterday, the tribunal took a turn when it heard Ms Simms say she has no issues with Tusla or the HSE or with Ms McTeague whom, she said, acted professionally and appropriately on foot of receiving a referral from the gardai.
It was also put to Ms Simms by Desmond Dockery SC, for Inspector Goretti Sheridan and Sgt Brigid McGowan – who took a statement from Ms Simms about Garda Keith Harrison in October 2013 but which Ms Simms subsequently withdrew in January 2014 – that she has no basis for believing that gardai manipulated the HSE in relation to the referral.
Ms Simms said: “That’s correct”.
On foot of this, Mr Dockery asked Ms Simms that, if that was her position, on what grounds did she make a complaint to GSOC last year in which she alleged the gardai abused their authority and made a referral in relation to Ms Simms’ children.
Ms Simms said she based it on her thinking that it wasn’t a coincidence that soon after she withdrew her statement on January 11, 2014, she received a letter from Tusla on February 2, 2014.
Mr Dockery suggested to Ms Simms that she is someone who has “a casual regard for people’s professional reputations”.
Ms Simms replied: “Absolutely not”.
At one point, Judge Peter Charleton directly asked Ms Simms: “What are you actually saying about the Garda and the HSE?”
Ms Simms replied: “I’m not inferring anything.”
At another point, Paul Anthony McDermott SC, for Tusla, stated:
“…there is a letter written on behalf of Marisa Simms and Garda Harrison by their solicitors to Dr [Katherine] Zappone, who is the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs; in other words, my client’s Minister…it says: “The manner of intervention of Tusla in our client’s family life is a cause of concern and is by any measure an inexcusable abuse of their position.”
“It was my understanding that the reason we’re here in this module was to investigate that allegation. It appears as though it is no longer being pursued.”
For the past week, the tribunal has heard of incidents and events in 2013 that led up to Ms McTeague’s visit and claims, and counter-claims, about the same.
The incidents include:
- Several domestic disputes between Ms Simms and Garda Harrison;
- Visits and phone calls to garda stations by members of Marissa Simms’ family, in which allegations were made against Garda Harrison;
- A statement made to gardai by Marissa Simms’ mother Rita McDermott about Garda Harrison on October 2, 2013 in which she said Ms Simms told her Garda Harrison threatened to burn her and the children. Last month, however, Mrs McDermott told tribunal investigators “I did not say this”. Last week she said she simply doesn’t remember saying that.
- A 38-page statement made to gardai by Ms Simms on October 6, 2013, made during an 8.5-hour interview, in which it’s recorded that she claimed Garda Harrison threatened to burn her on September 28, 2013. Ms Simms told the tribunal yesterday: “He never threatened to burn me. Ever.”
- Ms Simms’ statement also records her saying that Garda Harrison told her: ‘I am going to bury her [Ms Simms’ sister Paula] and you’. Ms Simms told the tribunal yesterday that Garda Harrison said he’d ‘bury’ Ms McDermott, in the sense of getting her back for not inviting him to her wedding on October 4, 2013, but inviting Ms Simms’ ex-husband.
- Both Insp Sheridan and Sgt McGowan have told the tribunal the words contained in Ms Simms’ statement are her words.
- Three texts sent from Ms Simms to Garda Harrison on September 29 and September 30, 2013, in which she referred to a threat made by him to burn her. Ms Simms told the tribunal yesterday that she sent them immaturely to hurt him.
- Ms Simms’ sister Paula McDermott’s wedding on October 4, 2013 – which Garda Harrison was not invited to – something which was causing a lot of tension between Ms Simms, Garda Harrison and Ms Simms’ family.
- Two death threats against Garda Harrison made via phone calls to garda stations on October 4 and 5, 2013.
- The subsequent sending by gardai of Ms Simms’ and Mrs McDermott’s statements as a Section 102 referral to GSOC. This did not proceed as Section 102 referrals concern matters that indicate “the conduct of a member of the Garda Síochána may have resulted in the death of, or serious harm to, a person”. Also, on October 11, 2013 – after GSOC contacted Ms Simms to tell her they had received her statement – she told GSOC she did not wish GSOC to deal with the matter.
- On foot of GSOC’s decision to close their file on it, the sending of a request to the Assistant Commissioner in Sligo to appoint a superintendent from outside Garda Keith Harrison’s division to investigate the matters.
- A strategy meeting between gardai and social workers on October 21, 2013, between Sgt McGowan and social workers Donna McTeague and Brigeen Smyth.Sgt McGowan’s notes of the meeting note: “Allegation of emotional abuse. Child allegedly present during verbal altercation”.Notes of the meeting from the HSE record: “Marissa Simms made statement of complaint to Gardaí detailing incident when child/children were present. Incident was a verbal disagreement between Marisa Simms and current partner.”Ms Teague, in her notes, recorded: “The incident was reported to be a verbal disagreement between Ms Simms and Mr Harrison. Mr Harrison was reported to be under the influence of alcohol and inappropriate physical contact was made by him on Ms Simms which the children witnessed. Sergeant McGowan did not go into any additional specific details contained in Ms. Simms’ statement.”
Ms Leader BL, for the tribunal, suggested that the HSE seem to be implying, according to what they’ve told the tribunal, that “they didn’t have appropriate information in light of what they now know about the contents of Ms Simms’ statement?”
Sgt McGowan told the tribunal: “I am in no doubt that I told the HSE that the children were present on the 28th September when the threats were made as contained in Marisa Simms’ statement, and I told them of the threats, and I specifically remember using the words “burn and bury” during the course of that meeting.”
- Ms Simms withdrawing her October 2013 statement on January 11, 2014.
- Sgt McGowan saying she informed Ms McTeague that the statement had been withdrawn, but having no note of it, and the HSE saying it only became aware after it followed up the matter with Sgt McGowan.The tribunal heard a HSE note recorded at the end of January 2014: “Telephone call to Sergeant McGowan. Purpose of call to assert current status regarding Garda investigation so as to allow SWD to proceed with investigation. Sergeant McGowan advised that Marisa Simms made a second statement to Gardaí in the past fortnight in the past fortnight, advising her that while the content of the original statement was completely true, she did not want the matter investigated by Gardaí.
“She was withdrawing her complaint. Ms. Simms is back in a relationship with Mr. Keith Harrison, the person against who original complaint was made. DSW advised that in order to progress matter report from Gardaí on specific information in original complaint will be required by SWD so as to progress SW investigation.”
“Sergeant McGowan to forward report to DSW as soon as possible. DSW to send invite to Ms Simms and Mr Harrison in first instance. Invite to meeting to be sent to Mr Andrew Simms following receipt of report from Gardaí so as to ensure accurate information shared.”
Sgt McGowan told the tribunal earlier this week:
“The purpose of the strategy meeting on 21st October was to inform the HSE of the serious allegations that were contained in Ms Simms’ statement.
“In relation to the notes of the HSE, I can’t answer for them, but I can say that I have never been asked to forward a report of that nature in relation to any matter that I have ever dealt with the HSE.”
The tribunal also heard yesterday that, on October 7, 2013, the day after Ms Simms made her statement, she looked up safety orders on the internet.
Under direct examination from Kathleen Leader, BL, for the tribunal, Ms Simms said that the reason she did was so was because Insp Sheridan had mentioned safety orders to her during the 8.5-hour meeting in Letterkenny Garda Station and that, as she had never heard of one, she looked it up online.
It was suggested yesterday to Ms Simms that, based on what was in her statement and her texts, a cynical person might think Ms Simms is now claiming the burn threat to be something other than that recorded in her statement “because you are now in a stable relationship with him [Garda Harrison] and you don’t want any of the bad things to happen to him that you looked up on the 7th October, didn’t want him to lose his job, or be prosecuted in relation to the threats and you didn’t want a safety order any more?”
Ms Simms told the tribunal:
“I accept that, but I’m not here to defend Garda Keith Harrison. I am here because my children have Pulse IDs and they don’t deserve that.”
More to follow.
Previously: Meanwhile At The Disclosures Tribunal