Clockwise from top left: Supt Eugene McGovern; Garda Keith Harrison, Marissa Simms; Chief Supt Terry McGinn; Judge Peter Charleton
At the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle.
Judge Peter Charleton continued to examine matters pertaining to Donegal-based Garda Keith Harrison.
Garda Harrison claims his working life has been difficult since he raised concerns about a garda being involved in the distribution of drugs in Athlone in 2008, and subsequently arrested the same garda for drink-driving in 2009.
It is his contention that the gardai manipulated domestic incidents involving him and his partner Marissa Simms that resulted in a referral being made to Tusla in February 2014.
This has been rejected by both An Garda Siochana and Tusla.
The decision to make a referral in respect of Garda Harrison to Tusla was made during a meeting about a statement made by Ms Simms on October 6, 2013, following a row on September 28, 2013.
At this meeting, it was also decided that a Section 102 referral should be made to GSOC.
A Section 102 referral concerns 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”.
Serious harm, the tribunal heard, is defined as: “injury that creates a substantial risk of death, causes serious disfigurement or causes substantial loss or impairment of mobility of the body as a whole or of the function of any particular bodily member or organ”.
Today, Dan Wright, of GSOC, who told the tribunal he was involved in setting up GSOC and writing many of its policies, told the tribunal that, in all his time at GSOC, he can’t ever recall taking a referral such as the one that was sent in to GSOC in respect of Garda Harrison in October 2013.
Ms Simms had neither died nor was seriously injured in the row.
The two rationales communicated to Mr Wright for the Section 102 referral were from Supt McGovern, who said it was due to the “psychological harm” element of the incident and, from Chief Supt Terry McGinn, that it was their belief that Garda Harrison may cause either death or serious harm to Ms Simms in the future.
Mr Wright told the tribunal that GSOC is concerned about matters in the past not the future and that the protection of life and property is a matter for An Garda Siochana and not GSOC.
But first to recap.
Readers will recall the following sequence of events:
September 28 2013: Marissa Simms and Garda Harrison had a row.
October 2, 2013: Ms Simms’ mother Rita McDermott made a statement to Inspector Goretti Sheridan and Sgt Jim Collins about Garda Harrison.
In her statement, Ms McDermott is recorded as saying: “Marisa has said that Keith threatened to burn her and the children…She is scared for her life. He said something about burning her and the children and something about take a good look at them children and you will only see them at weekends.”
October 6, 2013: Ms Simms made a statement to Inspector Goretti Sheridan and Sgt Brigid McGowan in Letterkenny Garda Station over 8.5 hours.
In that statement, it’s recorded that Ms Simms claimed Garda Harrison threatened to burn her during a row on September 28, 2013.
Also in her statement, Ms Simms is recorded as saying that, during texts and emails, during the week after their row and that he: “…didn’t mean that he was physically going to burn me but meant that he was going to destroy me.”
Ms Simms has since told the tribunal that Garda Harrison never threatened to burn her and that he told her she was going to ‘get burnt’ if she didn’t stop trying to please everyone.
October 8, 2013: A meeting is called by Chief Supt for Donegal division Terry McGinn in Letterkenny Garda Station. Those present at the meeting were: Inspector Goretti Sheridan; Chief Supt Terry McGinn; Supt Michael Finan, Detective Inspector Pat O’Donnell and Carl Campbell, of Garda internal affairs.
Also on October 8, 2013, Ms Simms handed her phone into Letterkenny Garda Station. However the tribunal has heard it was not analysed until the start of the tribunal in March 2017.
As mentioned above, at this meeting of October 8, 2013, it was decided that the statements of Ms Simms and Ms McDermott would be forwarded to both the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) and a referral would be made Tusla and that an investigation would get under way.
The tribunal has heard evidence from Dan Wright of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission, who was the senior investigating officer on call for Section 102 referrals on October 8, 2013.
This morning, he told the tribunal that he received a phonecall from Supt Eugene McGovern at around 12.35pm in which Supt McGovern informed him of a referral over threats by a garda to kill a female.
The tribunal has already heard that, on the same day, an email was sent from Chief Superintendent Anthony McLoughlin of the ‘B’ Branch , or Garda human resources, to Chief Supt Terry McGinn at 12.53pm.
The email stated:
RE: above and discussion on same. I know that the Supt will inform GSOC. But I am of the view that GSOC should be informed pursuant to S85 of the Act and at this time it is not a S102 referral.
However, Chief Supt McGinn wrote back at 13.14pm:
The situation has been assessed and Supt McGovern has already made a referral pursuant to S102. We await a response from GSOC.
The tribunal has already heard that George O’Doherty, Head of Corporate Services and Human Resources at GSOC, rang Ms Simms about the statement GSOC received on October 9 – at which point she was in hospital with an infection – and that they shared another phone call on October 11, 2013, during which Ms Simms told Mr O’Doherty she did not want GSOC to deal with the matter.
Mr O’Doherty told the tribunal that Rita McDermott’s statement was hearsay as it was third party evidence.
Mr Wright told the tribunal that GSOC is compelled to receive every Section 102 referral and there is “clear blue water” between a decision by An Garda Siochana to send a referral and whatever decision GSOC makes in respect of that referral.
Mr Wright told the tribunal “neither group will trespass on the remit of the other”.
Mr Wright said he had heard evidence over the past few weeks that there was this “notion” that GSOC could reject or decline referrals. He said this isn’t true and that once a Section 102 referral is made, GSOC have to deal with it.
He also said there is no power within An Garda Siochana to revoke such a referral.
Mr Wright said that when he spoke to Supt McGovern on the phone he made it clear to him that the protection of life and property is a matter for An Garda Siochana and not for GSOC.
In terms of Mr Wright being aware of Chief Supt McGinn’s rationale for the Section 102 referral – any possible future chance of Garda Harrison harming Ms Simms – Mr Wright said he couldn’t recall where he got that information from.
In terms of Ms Simms telling Mr O’Doherty that she did not wish GSOC to deal with the matter, Mr Wright confirmed to the tribunal that GSOC is not precluded from looking into a matter that it feels would be in the public interest.
Similarly, under cross-examination from Mark Harty SC, for Garda Harrison, Mr Wright confirmed that there is no law in the Garda Act to preclude members of An Garda Siochana from carrying out its own investigation into claims referred to GSOC.
“You don’t just stand back and do nothing. There are steps to be taken and we would expect those steps to be taken.”
Mr Harty has already told the tribunal that 15 months passed – from the day Ms Simms made her statement – before any garda asked Garda Harrison about the claims.
Last week, while cross-examining Supt McGovern, Mr Harty accused the gardai of not treating the ‘burn’ threat seriously but Supt McGovern said this wasn’t true and that “All threats that come to our attention are assessed.”
The tribunal also heard that Mr Wright wrote to Kevin Clarke, principal officer of the Garda Division in the Department of Justice, on December 10, 2013, in respect of the Section 102 referral.
The correspondence stated:
“I refer to incident referred to GSOC by Supt Eugene McGovern of Milford Garda Station, Co Donegal under Section 102 on Tuesday, October 8, 2013. An examination under Section 91 of the Garda Siochana Act 2005 has been conducted in relation to the above incident and following the examination, the matter has been discontinued.
“The examination of the circumstances clearly shows that at the time of this referral being made, there was no death or serious harm and the matter should have instead been notified to the Garda Ombudsman pursuant to Section 85 of the Act in the normal way. GSOC accepts, however, that the decision to make such a referral is a matter entirely for the Garda Síochána as per current protocol agreement.”
Ms Simms withdrew her statement on January 11, 2014.
In February 2014, Superintendent Mary Murray was appointed to carry out an independent investigation into Garda Harrison.
On May 14, 2014, Garda Harrison made a protected disclosure.
Chief Supt Terry McGinn confirmed to the tribunal that Supt Murray didn’t take any action until December 2014.
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.
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.”
The tribunal is currently hearing of events that unfolded before this meeting.
It is not within the terms of reference of the tribunal to investigate Garda Harrison’s allegations pertaining to Athlone.
Keith Harrison, originally from Galway, and Marissa McDermott, from Raphoe, Co Donegal, went out for about a year while Ms McDermott was a student at NUI Galway in the early 2000s. For a time they were engaged but, after breaking up, they lost contact and both went on to marry other people.
Ms McDermott now goes by her married name, Marissa Simms.
Some years later, after their respective marriages ended, Garda Harrison and Ms Simms rekindled their relationship and Garda Harrison got a transfer to Buncrana in Donegal in March 2011.
Ms Simms has a brother called Martin McDermott who killed 24-year-old Garda Gary McLoughlin, from Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, after he rammed a stolen car into Garda McLoughlin’s patrol car in Burt, Co Donegal in December 2009,
Mr McDermott reportedly had 91 previous convictions when he was convicted of manslaughter in July 2011.
Garda McLoughlin had been stationed at Buncrana at the time of his death and when Garda Harrison was transferred to Buncrana – just a few months before Mr McDermott’s trial – he did not disclose to anyone within the gardai that he was in a relationship with the sister of Mr McDermott.
Over the past three days, the tribunal has heard:
– Evidence related to Garda Harrison’s transfer to Buncrana;
– How it became known he was in a relationship with the sister of Martin McDermott;
– The fall-out of this becoming known;
– An anonymous letter being sent to the HSE, which was subsequently sent to gardai, about concerns for Ms Simms’ children;
– A meeting with social workers which found the allegations raised in the anonymous letter to be unsubstantiated;
– Death threats being made against Garda Harrison;
– Garda Harrison subsequently being put on “indoor duties”;
– Allegations made by members of Ms Simms’ family to gardai about Garda Harrison;
– Domestic disputes between Garda Harrison and Ms Simms;
– A report being sent to GSOC based on allegations made against Garda Harrison;
– And a statement which was made by Ms Simms but was subsequently withdrawn.
The first witness on Monday was retired chief superintendent Jim Sheridan.
Separately, readers will recall that Mr Sheridan previously appeared in the Disclosures Tribunal in relation to matters concerning Sgt Maurice McCabe.
Mr Sheridan forwarded the false rape allegation to the then Assistant Commissioner Kieran Kenny in May 2014 without acknowledging that the allegation was false – despite knowing this. Mr Kenny subsequently forwarded the incorrect referral to the office of the Garda Commissioner.
Mr Sheridan told the tribunal that, in hindsight, he should have disclosed that the allegation was incorrect.
On Monday, Mr Sheridan gave evidence in relation to the transfer of Garda Harrison from Athlone to Buncrana.
The tribunal heard that, in 2011, Mr Sheridan was the chief superintendent for Sligo-Leitrim division.
In addition, from November 2010 to August 2011 and again from February 2012 to November 2012, Mr Sheridan also had responsibility for Donegal division.
Mr Sheridan said he first learned of Garda Harrison in February 2011 when he received a phone call from Assistant Commissioner Fintan Fanning to see if he would be willing to accept Garda Harrison on transfer.
The tribunal also heard that, in the same month, Mr Sheridan received a report from the district officer in Milford that Garda Harrison had been making checks on PULSE in relation to Ms Simms.
Mr Sheridan told the tribunal that, during the phone call with Mr Fanning, he told Mr Fanning that he would take Garda Harrison in Sligo where Garda Harrison would be part of the escort unit.
Asked to explain the difference between an escort unit and ordinary policing duty, Mr Sheridan said:
“There’s a bank holding centre in Sligo where cash is retained, there’s an escort unit there who escort the bank — the movement of cash from, I think, Monday to Friday around the northwest, the west of Ireland into the midlands, and that is the duty involved.”
However, this did not occur as Garda Harrison was instead transferred to Buncrana.
Mark Harty SC, for Garda Harrison, told the tribunal that Garda Harrison had never sought a transfer to Buncrana – but only to the Donegal County division.
Mr Sheridan said he had no dealings with Garda Harrison during this transfer and had no dealings with Garda Harrison until several months later.
During cross-examination, by Mark Harty SC, for Garda Harrison, the tribunal heard that transfer attempts for Garda Harrison to other districts – specifically Limerick and Laois-Offaly divisions – had been rejected. No dates were given for these rejections.
In the case of Limerick, the tribunal heard that the Chief Supt in Limerick, in response to a transfer application, wrote to Assistant Commissioner Fanning saying:
“I am in receipt of the attached file from chief superintendent Mullingar and same is noted. I am aware of this member’s situation and transfer to Limerick would not be in his or the organisation’s best interests. It will not, in my view, alleviate any of the problems he is encountering.”
In a separate letter to Assistant Commissioner Fanning, the chief superintendent in Portlaoise wrote:
“I am unwilling to accommodate Garda Harrison in his application for a transfer to Laois-Offaly division.”
Mr Harty put it to Mr Sheridan:
“The situation then is that at the time at which Garda Harrison was seeking a transfer, he was being met with opposition and, to a certain extent, it would appear, dissent from people below the ranks to the assistant commissioner, whereby they were not willing to accommodate Garda Harrison, isn’t that correct?
Mr Sheridan responded: “Yes, that appears correct, yes.”
Mr Harty added: “And that appears to be directly related to something personal to Garda Harrison, isn’t that correct?”
Mr Sheridan replied: “It would appear so, but I’m not aware of that, to be honest, Judge.”
Mr Harty also asked Mr Sheridan about his conversation with Assistant Commissioner Fanning and asked him what information Assistant Commissioner Fanning gave Mr Sheridan.
Mr Sheridan said:
“My recollection is, there was a very brief conversation, I had a phone call from Assistant Commissioner Fanning. He did advise me that there may have been disciplinary matters. I did not go into them and to this day I do not know what they are. I said, I advised him that I would accept Garda Harrison to the escort unit in Sligo Town, and that ended the conversation, and I expected Garda Harrison to transfer to Sligo-Leitrim, to Sligo Town. I heard no more about it. The bulletin came out on the 15th March 2011, and Garda Harrison was being transferred to Buncrana Garda Station.”
Mr Sheridan said he did not call Assistant Commissoiner Fanning or anyone in Garda Human Resource Management (HRM) when he learned that Garda Harrison had been transferred to Buncrana and that although he was surprised, he accepted it.
The tribunal heard that, on May 23, 2011, an incident – the details of which were not disclosed – arose involving Ms Simms and her ex-husband in Churchill, Co Donegal.
Mr Sheridan accepted that the incident had not been caused by Garda Harrison and that, following that incident, Mr Sheridan first became aware that Ms Simms was a sister of Martin McDermott who was then waiting to be tried for the death of Garda McLoughlin.
This was brought to Mr Sheridan’s attention by Superintendent Kevin English, of Buncrana Garda Station, on May 25, 2011.
Mr Sheridan said Supt English told him that, in his view, it was no longer appropriate for Garda Harrison to serve in Buncrana and that “some of the station party were not happy in relation to it” – ‘it’ being his relationship with Ms Simms.
Several days later, a meeting was held between Mr Sheridan, Supt English and Garda Harrison in Letterkenny.
The tribunal heard that it is Garda Harrison’s view that the meeting was “fraught”.
But this account differs to that of Mr Sheridan.
Mr Sheridan told the tribunal:
“The meeting was conducted in a professional and efficient manner. I outlined at the outset the reason for the meeting and we discussed the incident in Churchill. Garda Harrison assured me that there wouldn’t be a repeat of it, that his partner and her former husband had come to an agreement in relation to matters and that there wouldn’t be a repeat of that incident. And then we discussed, obviously, his relationship, the relationship of his partner with Mr. McDermott.
“In fairness to Garda Harrison, he gave me a full rundown of his relationship going back to his college days with his partner, when they had originally met, when they had gone their separate ways and they had met up again in more recent times. He acknowledged that he hadn’t disclosed the relationship of his partner to Martin McDermott. We discussed all of those matters. He advised me that he had, since the incident in Churchill, I think on the night previously, he had informed the unit he worked with of the matter.
“He said that they had accepted it well. But he did — and that he had worked well with the unit there. But he did accept that — he fully accepted that he couldn’t continue to serve in Buncrana station.”
As Mr Sheridan gave evidence, notes of the meeting by Supt English were read out to the tribunal.
The notes said the following:
“Purpose of meeting: Explain to Garda Harrison. Garda Harrison provided personal details in relation to his partner, Marissa Simms, and their reason for moving to Donegal explained by Garda Harrison. Garda Harrison explained what happened on the 23/5/’11 re domestic incident… genuine fears for the safety of partner and two kids.”
“Garda Harrison confirmed that he met with his unit in Buncrana on the 29/5/’11, apologised and told them of his relationship with M. Simms. Garda Harrison believed unit were happy with explanation. Garda Harrison fully accepted that he should have disclosed who his partner was when he transferred to Buncrana Garda Station. Garda Harrison explained that his relationship would not cause any problem in the future and partner had little or no contact with her brother Martin.
“Superintendent English confirmed to chief [Sheridan] “that, since transferred, Garda Harrison to Buncrana there was no work-related issues and he was performing very well. Issue of transfer out of Buncrana was discussed. Garda Harrison accepted that he could not remain in Buncrana and requested to be kept anywhere within the Donegal division.
“Chief mentioned Sligo or Leitrim. Garda Harrison explained impact of not kept in Donegal Division. Garda Harrison gave assurances that there would be no further incidents with him and that he was getting his private issues sorted out. Garda Harrison stated that he would take a transfer to any other station within Donegal division. He wanted to make a new start. Chief confirmed there would be no delay in making his decision.”
Asked if these notes were accurate, Mr Sheridan said: “Absolutely, yes.”
Asked by Diarmuid McGuinness SC, for the tribunal, about Garda Harrison’s statement to the tribunal of this meeting, in which he alleges Mr Sheridan “started the meeting by accusing him of being underhanded and deceitful in keeping the relationship quiet and it showed a lack of respect in relation to his colleagues”, Mr Sheridan said:
“Those are not words that I would use. I certainly was disappointed that somebody — that a member of An Garda Síochána would not disclose that relationship, given the circumstances in which a colleague gave his life in the service of the country, and I certainly was very, very disappointed in relation to that. I was not angry. I had nothing to be angry about. I don’t do anger, to be honest.”
In addition, in relation to Garda Harrison’s statement, Mr Sheridan said:
“I’ve seen Garda Harrison’s statement. I saw it with disbelief, I have to say, Judge. I reject utterly his assertions in relation to the meeting.”
The tribunal heard that Garda Harrison claims, in his statement to the tribunal, that Mr Sheridan said: “I have good mind to send you far down the country and see how you like it then.”
When this was put to Mr Sheridan, he told the tribunal:
“Well, one is, I couldn’t say that because I didn’t have the authority to transfer him way down the country. I had the authority to transfer him back to Sligo if I wished.”
Under cross-examination from Mark Harty, SC, for Garda Harrison, Mr Sheridan said that had Garda Harrison disclosed his relationship with the sister of Martin McDermott, “we could have prevented the transfer to Buncrana” and he could have been facilitated somewhere else in Buncrana.
After the half-hour meeting, the tribunal heard that Mr Sheridan made the immediate decision to transfer Garda Harrison to Donegal Town and emailed Assistant Commissioner Fanning about the same.
During Mr Harty’s cross-examination of Mr Sheridan, Judge Charleton intervened on several occasions.
At one point, Judge Charleton said:
“As I understand from your client’s statement, which of course I have read, he is accusing Chief Superintendent Sheridan of malice, in sending him from Buncrana to Donegal Town and that hasn’t been put, and it ought to be put.”
Later Judge Charleton said:
“I am going to explore the question now, Mr. Harty. Did you maliciously transfer him from Buncrana to Donegal Town?”
Mr Sheridan responded: “Absolutely not, Judge.”
Judge Charleton then added:
“In order to inconvenience him or punish him in some way?”
Mr Sheridan responded: “Absolutely not.”
The tribunal also heard that, after the meeting between Garda Harrison, Mr Sheridan and Supt English, Mr Sheridan also wrote to the superintendent in Milford – the district in which the incident between Ms Simms and her ex-husband occurred on May 23, 2011 – in which Mr Sheridan wrote:
“If there are any further incidents, please advise this office.”
Mr Sheridan said he wrote this in light of the fact Garda Harrison gave him assurances that there would be no more incidents like that of May 23, 2011.
The tribunal heard that Mr Sheridan didn’t meet with Garda Harrison about his checking of Ms Simms on PULSE until April 24, 2012.
He said, as far as he could recall, there had been over 30 PULSE checks and at the meeting of April 24, 2012, Garda Harrison could not give him “any valid reason” for having carried out these checks.
Mr Harty, SC, for Garda Harrison told the tribunal that there had been 22 checks, from 2007.
Asked by Judge Charleton the reason why Garda Harrison had carried out so many checks, Mr Harty said Garda Harrison carried them out to see who was checking on Ms Simms’ car, as “he believed at the time that they were [both] under surveillance” by members of An Garda Siochana.
Judge Charleton asked Mr Sheridan if they were under surveillance and Mr Sheridan said “absolutely not” in respect of both Garda Harrison and Ms Simms.
Under cross-examination from Micheál O’Higgins, SC, for the Commissioner, Mr Sheridan said Garda Harrison “was not a thorn in his side” and he said, contrary to claims by Garda Harrison, Mr Sheridan is not related to Inspector Goretti Sheridan, of Letterkenny Garda Station.
Insp Sheridan was involved in a statement made by Ms Simms on October 6, 2013 which she later withdrew yet said was true. However, according to the tribunal’s opening statement, her statement of withdrawal – in which she said the claims in the original statement were true – was pre-pared by Inspector Sheridan.
In the tribunal’s opening statement, it is acknowledged that an anonymous letter was sent to the HSE in respect of Ms Simms’ children in January 2012.
Gardai in Milford were made aware of this letter on February 9, 2012 when a copy of it was handed over to Sergeant Bridget McGowan by Una Coll, of the HSE.
According to the opening statement, the anonymous letter said:
“It has come to my attention that the wellbeing of [the two children] is questionable. Their mother, Marisa Simms (nee McDermott) is having an extra-marital affair with a Garda Keith Harrison, who has a barring order against him from his estranged wife.
“She leaves and returns to the family home … on a regular basis, causing great upset to her two children, and husband, Andrew Simms obviously. Their father, Andrew Simms’ prime concern is to get his wife back, and is at breaking point. My gut feeling is that while Andrew is caring for the children physically, and working full time, he needs help. Thankfully he has the help of his mother.
“I would call you but I am aware that all calls are recorded. I have been advised not to leave myself open to Garda Harrison on any level, as I believe him to be a dangerous individual. I would fear, in his post, that he might obtain a recording of the call, and so therefore, I do not wish to put myself or my own family in danger. [One of the children] has become very withdrawn and [mentions various health issues] … I believe the stress of everything is far too much for [the child] to handle, without proper help.
“I feel it my duty to inform you of this situation, and so let you decide on what action might be taken, whether it be to inform the school, provide counselling etc. I feel that the children have suffered so much already and that maybe you are the people to help.”
The opening statement also details how, on February 10, 2012, Sgt McGowan forwarded a report to Supt Eugene McGovern, with the anonymous letter attached.
In her report, Sgt McGowan wrote:
“The matter was discussed and based on the contents, the member informed Ms. Coll that in their view there were specific concerns raised in the letter pertaining to the health and welfare of the children, in particular [one of the children], which would need to be addressed. The HSE informed me that they would call and speak to both parents of the children to ensure that the children were being adequately cared for and that they would inform me of the outcome of their enquiries.”
According to the opening statement, a meeting took place between gardai and Nora Roarty, a Social Work Team Leader, and Una Coll in which they informed Sgt McGowan that they had met with Marisa and Andrew Simms regarding the letter and discussed the welfare of the children.
After this the matter was closed as there were no further child protection concerns. According to Bridgeen Smith, social worker, there was “no information to substantiate the referral allegations”.
This meeting took place on March 14, 2012.
During Mr Sheridan’s evidence, the tribunal heard that, eight days after this meeting, on March 22, 2012, Mr Sheridan forwarded the anonymous letter to the superintendent in Letterkenny, a Superintendent O’Brien with the following note:
“The above is forwarded for your information and attention in the event of any incident being reported by Ms. Simms or Garda Harrison. The report and anonymous letter to the HSE are for your information only and not general circulation.”
The tribunal also heard of a report in relation to the inquiry into the anonymous letter sent by Sgt McGowan to Mr Sheridan on April 3, 2012.
Mr Sheridan said he couldn’t recall it but “if it’s there, I accept that it’s there, yes”.
He added: “It obviously was forwarded for my attention, or for my information, but I did not have any involvement in this or any contact with the HSE in relation to it, or anybody else.”
The tribunal has heard of instances in which members of Ms Simms family have made allegations about Garda Harrison to An Garda Siochana in relation to his treatment of her.
On Tuesday, the tribunal heard that, on the night of March 30, 2013, Ms Simms’ uncle William Bogle was at home in Raphoe, Co Donegal with his daughter Kerry Bogle and son Lee Bogle when Mr Bogle’s sister Rita McDermott – Ms Simms’ mother – telephoned saying she was concerned for Ms Simms.
The tribunal heard that on the night Ms McDermott made contact, Mr Bogle had been drinking.
It also heard that Mr Bogle’s memory is somewhat impaired as a result of a medical condition that he has suffered since 2013.
It’s unclear whether Ms McDermott called William’s phone or Kerry’s phone but she informed them that Ms Simms was “walking the roads” after an argument with Garda Harrison.
Ms McDermott was in Mayo on the night this phonecall was made.
Attempts to contact Ms Simms via phonecalls and texts were unsuccessful and so Mr Bogle – who said he knew nothing of Ms Simms and Garda Harrison’s relationship and didn’t know where they lived – telephoned Letterkenny Garda Sation.
The tribunal heard a recording of this telephone call in which Mr Bogle spoke to Garda Ian Oates telling him that “this garda is giving her grief”, “there’s kids in the house as well”, “he’s giving her awful abuse”, “he’s been very aggressive and chasing after her” and “we’re just very concerned for her”.
The telephone conversation wasn’t very clear and, in it, Garda Oates attempted to decipher who he was concerned about, where she lived and who was chasing her.
Mr Bogle also appeared to claim “he’s knocking her about”.
Kerry Bogle and Lee Bogle also spoke briefly during the telephone call.
Any difficulty in understanding what was said during the call was later made clear in the tribunal when a note of the call, made by Garda Oates, was read out.
“The caller was making allegations that Keith Harrison had kicked his sister, Rita, from out of the house and was following her in a car and flashing lights, later claimed she was assaulted also.”
Under questioning from Patrick Marrinan, SC, for the tribunal, Mr Bogle admitted that he merely concluded that Ms Simms’ children were in the house during the argument because: “I only assumed that the kids were there because I mean they would be with their mother, wouldn’t they?”
He said Ms McDermott told him that Garda Harrison was “racing after her through Letterkenny” and that he was “giving her a lot of abuse”.
After the phone call with Garda Oates, the tribunal heard that Kerry Bogle drove her father and brother in the direction of Churchill – where Garda Harrison and Ms Simms lived – in an attempt to find Ms Simms.
Unsuccessful, they then drove to Letterkenny Garda Station where William Bogle spoke to Garda Tina Fowley who was on duty that night.
The tribunal heard Mr Bogle couldn’t recall speaking to a male or female guard.
It also heard of a statement made by Garda Fowley in which she noted Mr Bogle was intoxicated.
The statement said:
“I recall two males and a female calling to the public office counter at Letterkenny Garda station during the early hours of the morning. One of the males, a Mr. William Bogle, stated he had rung earlier and expressed concerns for the safety of his niece, Marisa Simms.”
“He stated that they had been driving around Letterkenny looking for her as she was in a car being pursued by her partner.”
“He was unable to provide me with details of the vehicles involved. I asked for his niece’s address and the name of her partner. William Bogle did not know the address.”
“However, Kerry Bogle, his daughter, stated it was in the Churchill area. William Bogle was also accompanied by his son…I then explained to William Bogle that Garda Harrison was not stationed in Letterkenny but was attached to Donegal town Garda station
“William Bogle had drink consumed and was intoxicated.”
“I advised him he should speak to Marisa on the following day to establish what has occurred.”
“I also informed him that Marisa, as the injured party, would be the person who would have to make her statement of complaint in relation to the incident.”
The tribunal heard Mr Bogle’s brother died the following day and so he never asked Ms Simms about the evening.
Under cross-examination from Mark Harty, SC, for Garda Harrison, the tribunal heard that there were no children in the house that night and that Ms Simms “left of her own will in the company of a friend Mr Jim Quinn” and that there was “no incident that night which led to any act of violence on the part of Garda Harrison”.
Following questions from Judge Charleton about events of that night, Mr Harty told the tribunal that following a disagreement between Ms Simms and Garda Harrison:
“The situation is that at approximately 1:00 in the morning, Ms. Simms indicated that she wished to go back and stay in her mother’s and Garda Harrison rang Mr. Quinn because both Ms. Simms had been — had drink taken and couldn’t drive and Garda Harrison had also had some drinks at home that evening, and also couldn’t drive. So he rang Mr. Quinn and Mr. Quinn came and collected Ms. Simms and brought her, I think, to her mother’s house to stay.”
Kerry Bogle also gave evidence and said she can’t recall if the call came through to her phone, or her father’s phone, but that she spoke with Rita McDermott.
Ms Bogle said she couldn’t recall 100 per cent if Ms McDermott said Ms Simms and Garda Harrison had had an argument but that Ms Simms was “walking the streets” in her night clothes or pyjamas and that she asked if they could go and see if she was OK.
Jim Quinn, a Padre Pio faith healer, suicide counsellor and pioneer, also gave evidence about that night.
Mr Quinn, who said he knows Rita McDermott for about ten years and knows Ms Simms well, told the tribunal that he got a call from Garda Harrison, whom he didn’t know very well, on the night, and that Garda Harrison asked him if he could collect Ms Simms and give her a lift to her mother’s house as they had had a tiff.
Mr Quinn said he did drive from Letterkenny to Garda Harrison and Ms Simms’ home in Churchill about a 35-minute drive – to bring Ms Simms to Raphoe.
Recalling the night, Mr Quinn said:
“I stepped inside the door, I spoke to them as usual and I asked ‘Any chance of a cup of tea?’ and Keith said ‘Marisa will make a cup’. Marisa got up to make a cup and she kind of sat back down the seat, as if she had a couple of drinks too much. And I said to Keith ‘Maybe you should go and make the tea’ and he said ‘No, Marisa is all right’ and she got up and she did make a cup of tea, and I had a cup of tea.
“And that was that. I drunk the tea. Chatted. They said they had a wee tiff, words were exchanged. And Keith said he had drink on him, he couldn’t drive. She couldn’t definitely drive. So then I proceeded to take her home to Raphoe, to her mother’s house. Now, she was up and down the stairs, she did go up and down the stairs a few times with the phone, she was talking to somebody up at the top of the stairs, and when she got into the car to go home to Raphoe I said ‘Marisa, who were you on the phone to?’ and she says ‘Mum’. And I says ‘Why are you leaving the house? Do you think I am a taxi service?’ And she sort of, she kind of laughed, but she said ‘No, mum more or less told me to leave the house’.
“So more or less it was the mother’s instructions that she left the house. It was just a tiff. And I asked Marisa she did want to stay on. Marisa was quite willing to stay on that night, but she was under instructions, that she told me on the way up the road, that she wanted to go home, the mother told her to go home to the house.”
Mr Quinn also told the tribunal that Ms Simms told him that her mother told her that she had rung the guards.
The tribunal heard that Mr Quinn and Ms Simms spoke to Garda Oates on the phone that night – they couldn’t recall who called whom – and Garda Oates told the tribunal: “she didn’t seem distressed or anything, she seemed calm enough”.
Judge Charleton asked Hugh Hartnett, SC, for Ms Simms, about Ms Simms’ view of the evening.
Mr Hartnett said he was of the view that this matter was outside the terms of reference as it didn’t pertain to Ms Simms’ children or Tusla.
But Judge Charleton said he was not of that view and said he wished to know:
“Was there a row? How bad was the row? Does she accept what she says in the garda statement or is she giving a different narrative and if so what is that narrative?”
In addition, he asked:
“Is Marisa Simms saying that what she said to the Gardaí in October 2013 is incorrect? I suppose in what respect will become clear, if she is saying that. And, how does she explain withdrawing her statement, which is — well, it can happen in domestic violence situations, and it can be because nothing ever happened and the statement was made untruthfully, or it can be because it is simply being withdrawn because the relationship is back on an even keel. What are the circumstances under which she withdrew the statement but apparently told the Gardaí that it was true? So those are the things I need to know.”
Mr Hartnett later told the tribunal that it’s Ms Simms’ evidence that she called Mr Quinn on the night.
He also told Judge Charleton:
“There was certainly a row in the sense that there was an argument between these two people. There were –you asked the question, was Keith Harrison out of control, that is a very general term, but certainly voices were raised by both parties, and there is no doubt about that.
“You asked the question, sir, was she pulled out of bed, and my client will say that the duvet was pulled from the bed but that she wasn’t pulled out of bed. And as to whether she was pushed out in her pyjamas, she went out onto the street in her pyjamas, and a coat over them, as she awaited the arrival of Mr. Quinn, the previous witness.
“And then in relation to the question of the withdrawal of her statement, sir, you will notice that some couple of days after making that statement she was contacted by GSOC and that was her immediate reaction, to withdraw the statement, and soon after that she indicated that she wished to withdraw her statement.
“So in relation to this particular module, if I can put it that way – and the issues, the evidence that was given today, where the statement says that there was a pulling out of the bed, we say that that is incorrect.”
Mr Harty added:
“She signed that statement. But issues will arise in relation to that which, in my submission, are best dealt with by cross-examination during the hearing of viva voce evidence.”
The tribunal also heard of two further occasions where members of Ms Simms’ family contacted gardai about Garda Harrision in August 2013 and September 2013.
Detective Sergeant David Durkin told the tribunal yesterday that he got a call from Rita McDermott whom he had gotten to know when he had worked in Raphoe because of dealings with Martin McDermott when he was a minor as he sometimes had to serve summonses on Rita McDermott in respect of Mr McDermott.
Det Sgt Durkin also said he knew William Bogle as he sometimes did taxi runs for prisoners.
Det Sgt Durkin told the tribunal yesterday that, on the evening of Saturday, August 24, 2013, at around 9.40pm, he got a call from Mrs McDermott in which she alleged that on the Tuesday night prior to that, she got a call from Ms Simms at around 3am; that Garda Harrison had thrown Ms Simms out of the home and locked her out; that Mrs McDermott had to go and collect Ms Simms from the house; and that when she got to the house, Ms Simms was outside in her pyjamas.
He also said Mrs McDermott said that this was the third similar incident in three months.
Det Sgt Durkin said Mrs McDermott said there were no children present on the evening and that this allayed his fears and caused him not to contact TUSLA about the matter.
He said he advised Mrs McDermott what avenues were open to Ms Simms, under the Domestic Violence Act, if she deemed them appropriate.
He said he prepared a report for his superintendent and that he felt it was a matter for them if they wished to take if further.
Det Sgt Durkin also told the tribunal how Mrs McDermott told Set Sgt Durkin that Ms Simms didn’t know she was making this known to him and she didn’t wish Ms Simms to this find out.
Det Sgt Durkin gave further evidence about a second phone call with Mrs McDermott – specifically on September 24, 2013 – in which she again relayed her concerns about Garda Harrison.
Mrs McDermott told Det Sgt Durkin that Ms Simms had asked Garda Harrison to move out but he refused and that Ms Simms planned to remove all of Garda Harrison’s belongings from their house when he returned to work on October 2, 2013 – he had been on leave due to a road accident unrelated to work and was due back on October 2, 2013.
Mrs McDermott also informed Det Sgt Durkin that Ms Simms’ sister Paula McDermott was to get married on October 4, 2013 and that, as Garda Harrison wasn’t invited, there was some tension building up to the wedding and that Paula got correspondence that Keith was going to cause some disturbance at the wedding.
Det Sgt Durkin told the tribunal that he advised Mrs McDermott, that if Ms Simms or Paula McDermott had concerns, they should come into the station and make complaints.
Det Sgt Durkin said towards the end of this call, he believes Mrs McDermott ran out of credit and his attempts to call her back were unsuccessful as he didn’t have her correct phone number.
The tribunal heard that, on October 1, 2013, Det Sgt Durkin spoke to Mrs McDermott again and she told him that Garda Harrison’s behaviour was causing concern, that Paula McDermott had had her hen night in a hotel in Westport that that the hotel had been contacted by Garda Harrison and that he had looked for footage of the hen party in the nightclub.
Det Sgt Durkin said Mrs McDermott made it clear to him that he had made this request as a garda.
A subsequent visit to the hotel by Det Sgt Durkin found that this wasn’t true and that Garda Harrison requested the footage as it was going to be used as a gift at the wedding – on October 4 2013 – and that he didn’t make the request as a garda.
While Sgt Durkin gave evidence, the tribunal also heard that in October 2013, at around the time of the wedding of Marissa Simms’ sister Paula McDermott’s wedding, gardai received death threats concerning Garda Harrison and that, because of these threats, Garda Harrison was put on “indoor duty” under instructions from the divisional office until the threat was over.
The tribunal heard that the following May, in 2014, Garda Harrison complained that the investigation into these threats was protracted and he wanted it to cease so he could return to normal duty; and he alleged to Sgt Durkin that he felt he was subjected to harassment and bullying but that he had no issues with members in Donegal Town.
The tribunal also heard how Ms Simms’ sister Paula McDermott visited Letterkenny Garda Station, on the afternoon of September 30, 2013, and spoke with Garda Brendan Mahon, in private, telling him on the night of Saturday, September 28, 2013, Garda Harrison had threatened Ms Simms in front of one of her children and said he was going to burn her in the house with her children and bury her.
Garda Mahon told the tribunal that Paula McDermott appeared upset and had a genuine concern for her sister.
The tribunal heard that it Garda Harrison will give evidence saying that during the argument he told Ms Simms that because of the actions of her family, she would be the person getting burnt, meaning that she would suffer the consequences of these actions.
Mark Harty, SC, for Garda Harrison, said:
“So the Tribunal is aware, my client’s recollection of the night was that he advised — during the course of the row he told Ms. Simms that because of the actions of her family she was the one who was going to end up getting burnt by all of this…She is the one who would be injured by the actions of her family, etcetera.”
The tribunal also heard that later that afternoon on September 28, 2013, Garda Mahon spoke to Paula McDermott again and that she said Ms Simms would make a statement.
It also heard that Garda Mahon subsequently drew up a report on the matter for Sgt Jim Collins, of Letterkenny Garda Station.
The tribunal heard Sgt Collins, in turned, sent this report to his superiors in the district office.
He also went on to have a meeting about with Sgt Brigid McGowan on October 1, 2013, and later that evening Sgt Collins spoke to Paula McDermott on the phone.
In a report following this conversation with Ms McDermott to his superiors – Sgt Brigid McGowan, Inspector Goretti Sheridan, Inspector David Kelly and Supt Eugene McGovern – Sgt Collins noted:
“During the conversation [with Paula McDermott] it was also established that Marisa Simms called to the house at Churchill earlier today where she met with Keith Harrison. She went there to collect clothes. He asked her if she reported the alleged threats and she said no. He said he asked her that because he saw patrol cars up around the house driving slowly. He was crying and begging her not to report it.”
“Paula McDaid [sic] was asked by me if her sister Marisa was going to make a statement as was intimated by Paula yesterday. During her conversation with Garda Mahon she said that she had spoken with Marisa earlier today and Marisa indicated she still wished to make the statement but outlined how she, Paula, is getting married on Friday and that Marisa would probably make it after that. It was suggested by me that when she was in Letterkenny attending the hospital tomorrow, she could call down, and I offered a number of time options and made myself available to take any statements. But Paula was adamant that this would not be made until after Friday. She again emphasised that it would be after the wedding.”
The tribunal heard that Sgt Collins’ report also stated:
“If I were a sceptical person, I may be tempted to suggest that the Gardaí are being used as a pawn in this case, as I believe that there is a fear that Keith Harrison may turn up at the wedding on Friday and cause a scene.”
Asked about this latter comment, Sgt Collins told the tribunal:
“…in my opinion, Paula McDermott was more concerned with pointing out the fact that the wedding was on the on the weekend and that she was more concerned with Garda Harrison may turn up and cause an issue. So that’s — that was basically how I formed my opinion.”
The tribunal heard Sgt Collins also wrote in his report:
“I have no doubt the threats were made but I believe that Marisa Simms is not intending to make a complaint about same and her sister is using the situation to her advantage with regard to preventing any scene/situation at her wedding.”
Sgt Collins told the tribunal that the following day, October 2, 2012, Chief Superintendent Terry McGinn gave directions to Inspector Goretti Sheridan to speak with Rita McDermott to see if she was interested in making a statement and that Sgt Collins should accompany her.
Sgt Collins told the tribunal that he wasn’t aware that Mrs McDermott had previously made representations to the gardai but, according to the his statement, he was.
Mr Marrinan, SC, for the tribunal, reminded Sgt Collins that, in his statement, he said:
“We informed her as to the purpose of our visit, which was to speak to her about her daughter, Marisa, and concerns which she had highlighted previously to Sergeant Durkin.”
Sgt Collins conceded that he must have been aware of it but can’t recall being aware of it.
Sgt Collins and Insp Sheridan spoke to Rita McDermott in her home and Insp Sheridan took a formal statement from Mrs McDermott while Sgt Collins took notes.
Sgt Collins later left a voicemail on Ms Simms’ phone explaining that he had been speaking to Mrs McDermott and that if she wished to make a statement too, she could contact him.
Mr Marrinan then read out a statement Mrs McDermott made to the tribunal in respect of this meeting, saying:
“I wish to state I felt under pressure providing that statement. The sergeant and inspector came looking for me. I did not even know Sergeant Collins. They stopped their car in front of my mum’s house.”
“And Sergeant Collins stuck his head in my car window. I had to ask him to introduce himself. I did not know who he was. He called me by my first name, but I did not know him.
Upon hearing this, Sgt Collins told Judge Charleton:
“She knew me. Do you wish me to comment on how long I know Ms. McDermott?… It may be slightly embarrassing, Judge. I’ve known her since I came there in 2005/2006…. If you wish I can certainly elaborate on how I came to know her, but that’s up to yourself.”
Judge Charleton said there was no need for him to elaborate and acknowledged there was a matter concerning her son, Martin McDermott.
But Sgt Collins said:
“This matter would have been before that, Judge, and it would have been a different matter.”
“I was involved in a lot of the community activities, including the 50th anniversary of St. Eunan’s Terrace, which is why I knew her mother lived there. Her mother is one of the longest living people there, so that is one of the places she would have known me from. Her son, I would have had reason to call a number of times, but I would have known her prior to that for another reason, Judge, that I don’t think is appropriate to address here.“
The tribunal also heard that, in her statement to the tribunal, Mrs McDermott said:
“I just felt under pressure from the pair of them because I never had Garda involvement in my life.”
Judge Charleton commented to Sgt Collins that he was raising an eyebrow to that, to which Sgt Collins said:
“It depends what you mean by “Garda involvement”, Judge….I don’t want to comment further, Judge, obviously.”
The tribunal also heard Mrs McDermott told the tribunal:
“I have been asked whether it is possible that I did state what is recorded in my statement.”
“I did not say that. I have a good memory. I know for definite that Marisa never told me anything about threatening the children.”
Mrs McDermott is giving evidence today.
Transcripts of the past three days’ proceedings can be read here
From top: Garda Nicky Keogh, Garda Keith Harrison; Acting Garda Commissioner Dónal Ó Cualáin and former Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan
Further to Noirin O’Sullivan stepping down from her position as Garda Commissioner.
The new acting Garda Commissioner, until a replacement is found, is Deputy Commissioner Dónal Ó Cualáin.
Readers may wish to note that Mr O’Cualáin has previously been named in the Dáil, in relation to claims of a cover-up regarding Garda collusion with heroin dealers.
Garda Keith Harrison first raised his suspicion that a garda was involved in the distribution of drugs in Athlone in November 2008 but he claims, in a complaint to GSOC and in his statement to the Disclosures Tribunal, that nothing happened on foot of making his suspicions known.
Garda Harrison later arrested this same garda for drink-driving in June 2009.
Garda Nicky Keogh then made a formal complaint to the then Confidential Recipient Judge Pat McMahon about the same garda and the sale of heroin in Athlone in May 2014.
His complaint was investigated by then Assistant Commissioner Donal Ó Cualáin.
In October 2015, Garda Keogh made a complaint to GSOC regarding the manner in which the then Assistant Commissioner Dónal Ó Cualáin was carrying out his investigation into the alleged involvement of a garda into heroin dealing with Garda Keogh alleging that there appeared to be a cover-up.
Later that month, Mr Ó Cualáin was promoted to Deputy Commissioner.
A GSOC report into their investigation of Garda Keogh’s complaint has yet to be released.
On May 25 in 2016, following the publication of the report of the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation, which investigated complaints of Garda misconduct in Cavan/Monaghan by Sgt Maurice McCabe, TDs gave statements in respect of the report.
During his speech in the Dail, Mick Wallace, Independents 4 Change TD, said:
“In the past two years myself and Deputy Clare Daly have raised issues 18 times about how the Department and the Commissioner have dealt with whistleblowers.
Garda Nicky Keogh wrote to the Minister [Frances Fitzgerald] last week. He made allegations on May 8, 2014 to the confidential recipient, Judge Pat McMahon. After that, he said he was subject to five internal investigations and relentless harassment. He said he has been driven out and has been out sick since December 26. He also says he has got no protection. The Minister will know this from the letter she received.
His letter went on to say that further to his letter dated July 25, 2015, he had made a protected disclosure to GSOC in respect of a flawed Garda criminal investigation into a conspiracy to supply heroin involving a member of An Garda Síochána in contravention of section 21 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977.
He said he believed this was no more than a deliberate and unmitigated cover–up by the Deputy Commissioner, Donal Ó Cualáin. He said he believed that the investigation was similar to the internal Garda investigations into Garda misconduct in Donegal in the 1990s.
He went on to say that the protection offered to him as a whistleblower under the terms of the protected disclosures legislation was completely disregarded and ignored by the Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan.”
Two years prior to Mr Wallace’s statement to the Dáil, then Independent TD Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan spoke of Garda Nicky Keogh’s allegations in the Dáil, on May 8, 2014, saying:
“His allegations are serious, including a cover up of an original file which was stolen, with the original incident being removed from the PULSE system; the creation of new statements and appearance of new original information; non-compliance by the Garda with the court order for disclosure and at least one of the accused being threatened by a garda to plead guilty on the day of the court case.”
“[Garda Nick Keogh]’s greatest concern with the drugs operation in November 2009 is that there was a systematic and orchestrated effort by high-ranking Garda officers to induce and coerce citizens, in this case citizens with no previous criminal conviction, to buy drugs from drug dealers, putting them in personal danger, and sell the drugs in turn to undercover gardaí without making any profit, thus boosting crime detection figures concerning arrests, charges and convictions.
The result of this operation was that these mostly young citizens of the State, who had no previous drug convictions, now have serious drug convictions.”
“Finally, a further aspect of grave concern regarding the planning of this operation was that the list of persons nominated to be targeted had a notable omission in that a significant and well recognised drug dealer in the area who has long been associated with a senior member of the drugs unit was excluded.”
On October 2, 2016, John Mooney, in The Sunday Times, reported that an internal investigation into Garda Nicky Keogh’s complaints of Garda collusion in heroin dealing in the Midlands had “found evidence to substantiate claims” made by Mr Keogh but that the DPP advised there was “insufficient evidence to prosecute those implicated”.
Broadsheet understands no report on this internal investigation has been published to date.
Readers will recall how the report into the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation didn’t mention certain events which took place during the private commission.
After the report was published, Michael Clifford, of the Irish Examiner, andKatie Hannon, of RTE’s Prime Time, reportedthat Colm Smyth, the senior counsel for the Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan, set out in the early stages of the commission that evidence would be produced to show that Sgt McCabe had told two other gardaí that he was making his complaints out of malice.
But a few days after this submission, Sgt McCabe told Judge Kevin O’Higgins he had a tape recording of the meeting in question.
The matter was subsequently dropped when the recording proved the allegation to be wrong.
In addition, readers may also wish to note that Broadsheet reported last week that, in regards to the wrongful allegation of malice, An Garda Siochana also claimed the reason Sgt McCabe was supposedly acting out of malice was because he wanted the DPP’s directions against him, in respect of Ms D’s 2006 allegation of “humping” – a matter which is part of the current Disclosures Tribunal – overturned.
It’s understood An Garda Siochana made this allegation on the belief that Sgt McCabe didn’t know the DPP’s directions.
However, it was also dropped when Sgt McCabe informed Judge O’Higgins that he had full knowledge of the DPP’s directions and was very satisfied with them.
Clockwise from top left: Sgt Maurice McCabe, Mr Justice Peter Charleton, Garda Keith Harrison, Superintendent David Taylor, and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan
Supreme Court judge Peter Charleton published his first interim report on the Disclosures Tribunal.
In it, he loosely outlines when certain hearings pertaining to the tribunal will take place (more on this below)
In addition, he lists the parties – including journalists – who have been represented before the tribunal so far, and who represented them.
In relation to journalistic privilege, Mr Charleton writes:
Another privilege that is claimed is in respect of those who engage with journalists in the public interest to enable them to carry out the vital role of calling democratic and executive institutions to account. Some journalists have given witness statements in which they have helpfully specified conversations that have taken place outside of what they perceived to be the cloak of any such privilege, if it exists.
Others have refused to say whether there is any relevant testimony which they might offer. The extent of that privilege and the circumstances under which is arises are both likely to occupy time.
As for his appeal for cooperation from all interested parties, when he made his opening statement about the tribunal, on February 27, 2017, Mr Charleton said:
“There were many useful pieces of correspondence received, including from concerned members of the public, though the general level of response was very disappointing.”
“On 30 March 2017, the Tribunal sat to hear applications for representation from interested parties… On that day, several representatives of journalists indicated an intention to apply for representation but declined to answer any questions from the tribunal as to whether the individual or organisation seeking representation even had any relevant testimony to offer the tribunal.
It is important to record that not all journalists or media organisations took that approach. The full transcript of that hearing and the ruling of the tribunal as of 3 April 2017 are both available on the tribunal’s website.”
On the tribunal’s intended schedule, he writes:
The Tribunal is grateful for the co-operating of parties in its work to date and it is hoped the Tribunal will conclude hearing evidence before the end of this year.
It appears useful to the work of the Tribunal to divide its consideration of matters into about five substantial sections. What follows is only an outline.
Of pressing public concern is whether or not files in certain State agencies, who here might be identified as Rian, the Health Service Executive and the Child and Family Agency, otherwise Túsla, were created and distributed or otherwise used by senior members of our police force in inventing or furthering a false allegation of sexual abuse against Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
This will be the first section of public hearings. It is hoped to engage in these and to complete them in July of this year. Progress on this matter has moved very far but the analysis of relevant computers is essential and there are further interviews to be conducted by our investigations.
Concerns in relation to Garda Keith Harrison and his family and the same State agencies might be regarded as being similar in kind, if not in detail, and it is hoped to engage in public hearings on that issue in September of this year. Again, considerable work has been done.
As to what may have been briefed to the then Garda Press Officer, Superintendent David Taylor for dissemination to journalists by former Commissioner Martin Callinan and then Deputy Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, this is the subject of an inquiry in respect of which public hearings are hoped to be held, perhaps following a short break, in November.
Allied to this section are concerns in relation to an engagement between former Commissioner Martin Callinan and John McGuinness TD that is said to have taken place on 24 January 2014, in a very specific location, according to the terms of reference.
These sections do not seem to be divisible and evidence on one may be of assistance in the determination of what attitude was taken by those senior officers to Sergeant Maurice McCabe, if any, and as to how they responded or acted.
A specific, and it would seem relatively short inquiry, is to be made in relation to broadcasts on RTE of 9 May 2016. This, in fact, consisted of several broadcasts and commentaries, and as to whether Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan was influencing, or had dictated, the terms of these in some way.
The O’Higgins Commission was of course the subject of the commentary in relation to these broadcasts. It may be logical to consider that with the question as to whether false allegations of sexual abuse or any other unjustified grounds were inappropriately relied upon by the Commissioner during the hearings before Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins.
It is hoped to dispose of these matters in December of this year. It is not within the terms of reference to re-run the O’Higgins Commission but, instead, that report is part of the evidence before the tribunal. It might usefully be read by all interested parties.
You may recall how, on Wednesday evening, Garda whistleblower Keith Harrison’s solicitor Trevor Collins spoke to Miriam O’Callaghan on RTE’s Prime Time about how Keith was the subject of a referral to Tusla over a false abuse allegation.
Yesterday it was announced that Mr Harrison’s complaints will be included in the tribunal of inquiry that will examine the alleged smear campaign against Sgt Maurice McCabe.
Readers will recall how Garda Harrison’s troubles began after he arrested a member of the drugs quad for drink driving in Athlone in June, 2009.
The arrest came a year after Garda Harrison made a complaint alleging that a member of the Garda drugs unit was involved in the sale and supply of heroin in Athlone.
In 2014, Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty told the Dail that Garda Harrison made serious claims about how the drink driving case was struck out and how evidence related to the case was stolen by a Garda member.
Mr Harrison, who has been on sick leave since 2014, released the following statement last night:
After a long and difficult battle to have all my complaints investigated I would like to acknowledge the publication [yesterday] of the expanded terms of reference of the Tribunal of Inquiry that now includes an investigation of my treatment and that of other whistleblowers within An Garda Siochana. I trust the Inquiry will establish the truth and bring about a change within Senior Management of An Garda Siochana.
My family and I acknowledge and thank the public for the support received since taking the extraordinary step of bringing our case to national attention.
I continue to remain out of work on sick leave without any pay. I ask that my pay be restored so that I may financially support my family. It remains my wish to return to active duty serving my community as a member of An Garda Siochana.
I thank all those who met with us, listened and assisted us in reaching this point, I acknowledge Minister Katherine Zappone TD, Minister Finian McGrath TD and Minister Sean Canney TD, Brendan Howlin TD, Mr Michael Martin TD and Mr Jim O’Callaghan TD, Dr Michael Harty TD, Mr Pearse Doherty TD and Mr Johnathan O’Brien TD who met and listened to us.
Special thanks to Clare Daly TD and Mick Wallace TD for their exhaustive efforts in highlighting the treatment of whistleblowers within An Garda Siochana.
I would like to particularly thank Alan Kelly TD who offered his wholehearted support in bringing these matters to public attention and, on my behalf, championed our case in the Dail to bring about the widening of the Terms of Reference to include my experiences.
I would like to thank the trojan work of each and every member of staff of Kilfeather and Company solicitors, Galway and in particular the tireless efforts of our solicitor, Trevor Collins.
Finally I thank my family for their love and support in particular my partner Marisa, who continues to be my rock throughout this ordeal. No further statements shall be made and I look forward to the convening of the Inquiry.
From top: Garda Keith Harrison; Independents 4 Change TDs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly, and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan at a committee meeting on October 12, 2016
Readers will recall how, last October, Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly repeatedly asked Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan if she was privy to any information about allegations of mistreatment of Garda whistleblowers.
At one point, Ms Daly said:
“Commissioner, you said you weren’t privy to any information about allegations of mistreatment of whistleblowers, that your knowledge was very much based on what was in the public commentary and, from what you’ve heard, but is that statement not contradicted by the fact that legal counsel for one of the whistleblowers wrote directly to you 14 times over a two-year period, outlining a litany of direct experiences that he had had in terms of surveillance, intimidation.“
Ms O’Sullivan repeatedly replied:
“I’m not privy to, nor did I approve, nor would I condone any campaign of harassment…”
The Garda Commissioner also said she was precluded from speaking about individual cases.
As recently as Monday, Ms O’Sullivan also told Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio One:
“I have absolutely no knowledge, nor was I privy to any campaign to undermine any individual in An Garda Siochana.”
Further to this…
Below is one of those 14 letters, referred to above by Ms Daly, sent by Garda Keith Harrison’s solicitors, Kilfeathers & Company to o Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan.
It was sent on May 20, 2016.
We write to you again in circumstances where you have failed to… reply to our correspondence and address the very serious issues and concerns raised therein.
There has been an extraordinary effort to smear and undermine the credibility of our client by his employer, your servants and agents. As his employer you have clearly failed in your duty of care and refused to engage with our client regarding his serious health and welfare issues as a result of the unfair treatment he has suffered. He has been isolated and abandoned by his employer and colleagues.
Furthermore our client has suffered financially in circumstances where he has not worked since the 19th of May 2014. Because he has no income he is unable to adequately support his family financially as he is solely in receipt of social welfare payments.
The financial hardship has caused our client further stress, distress and anxiety. Our client is now in the extraordinary position that his social welfare payment will cease today, the 20th of May, 2016.
…We ask that you formally reply to our numerous letters that have gone unanswered.
…According to members of An Garda Siochana who have notified our client – our client has been the subject of unsubstantiated death threats on three occasions.
This issue regarding the alleged death threats is of serious concern for our client and in particular the handling of these matters by your servants and agents. Given the manner with which you have dealt with these threats, our client questions the legitimacy and source of such threats given the nature and manner in which they have been communicated to him.
… It is clear to us An Garda Siochana have failed in their duty to our client as a victim and as member of the force. It appears to us the alleged threats are used as justification for the surveillance and harassment of our client but at no point are these matters properly investigated.
For the avoidance of any doubt our client has received no support from you, your servants or agents. He has suffered victimisation, penalisation and isolated and has been subject to continued attempts to smear his reputation and undermine his credibility. This has caused him serious harm from the point of view of his health and welfare to include serious financial hardship.
Please note because of your failure, the foregoing matters shall be brought to the attention of GSOC and the Minister for Justice for further examination.