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Recent news reports on court cases relating to Shell Corrib Gas Project protesters

The Mayo News  (page 5)

Belmullet court cases a ‘complete waste of money’

AN ERRIS councillor has described last week’s special sitting of Belmullet District [court] involving Shell to Sea protesters as a ‘complete waste of resources’.

A special sitting of Belmullet District Court ran over four days where 27 people were summoned to appear before the court following protests in relation to the Corrib gas project. Only one person who appeared before the court was convicted while another person was given the probation act and others were acquitted or had their charges withdrawn.

Sinn Fein councillor Rose Conway Walsh told The MayoNews that ‘scarce’ public resources should be used better on tackling ‘real crime’ rather than bringing protesters to court on minor charges.

“This is a complete waste of resources and scarce resources I might add when you consider that we are struggling to keep beds open in Belmullet hospital. It is a complete waste of money to bring these people to court and to keep Pat O’Donnell in jail and separated from his family. Garda resources would be better deployed keeping communities safe and doing what needs to be done in tackling real crime,” she said.

A Garda spokesperson told The Mayo News that when Gardai investigate incidents, all the files are forwarded to the DPP who have the final say on whether to bring prosecutions.

The spokesperson added that there were a number of reasons why some of the charges were struck out and these included vital prosecution witnesses not being available to give evidence.

‘On Thursday of last week, charges against nine members of the Erris community were struck out by Judge Gerard Haughton after the State indicated it would not be offering any evidence. The charges against the local residents related to the removal of netting from the cliff at Glengad beach.

On the same day public order charges against nine protesters were dismissed by Judge Haughton after he ruled that they were unlawfully detained following their arrest last May. Seven of these protesters were remanded to prison by Judge Mary Devins until released by order of the High Court a number of days later. All nine were also banned from entering the county of Mayo, while their case was being heard.

Shell to Sea spokesperson, Maura Harrington claimed that the special sitting had exposed ‘unbalanced policing of Shell’s operations in Erris’.

“The question remains, why were most of these cases proceeded with for many months and then dropped at the last minute? And is this an attempt by the State to discourage peaceful protest and intimidate campaigners who oppose Shell?” she said.

The only conviction during the four days was recorded against Niall Hamett of Barnacullen, Pollathomas who was convicted of assaulting gardai and was sentenced to five months imprisonment.



Monday, 29 March 2010
The Mayo News (page 16)

Courtroom drama leads to five month jailing for Niall Harnett

A SHELL to Sea protester sentenced to five months imprisonment for assaulting three gardaí in Belmullet Court said he would not apologise to them and branded them ‘bullies’.

Niall Harnett of Barnacullen, Pollathomas was found guilty of assaulting Inspector Joe Doherty, Sergeant Dermot Butler and Garda Hugh Egan at last week’s special sitting of Belmullet District Court.

Mr Harnett denied the charges and plans to appeal the verdict after surety for his appeal was approved. He said he was not prepared to apologise to Inspector Doherty, Sergeant Butler or Garda Egan because he was ‘standing up to them’.

In sentencing, Judge Gerard Haughton said that Mr Harnett felt he was above the law and entitled to do whatever he believed was right irrespective of the law.

“That type of attitude will only lead to the breakdown of ordinary law and order and ordinary regular society,” he said.

The incident took place during a sitting of Belmullet District Court on March 11, 2009 when Judge Mary Devins called for the court to be cleared to allow a family law case to be heard. The prosecution claimed that an altercation took place at the back of the courtroom and Mr Harnett charged into Inspector Joe Doherty’s back in a rugby style manner when he was being led away from the court. It was also claimed that he tried to barge past Sgt Butler and Garda Egan when he tried to get back into the courtroom.

Mr Harnett denied the claims saying that when he was leaving the court he saw Sgt Butler talking to Pat Deane who he claimed had an uncomfortable look on his face. He claimed that when he said he would be a witness to the conversation, Sgt Butler said ‘Get away you’ and flung him towards the door.

He said he went back to get his bag and claimed he was manhandled by gardaí, and flung ‘hither and thither’ out the door. He categorically denied launching himself at Inspector Doherty. He said he tried to get between Sgt Butler and Garda Egan to goback into the court to help Mr Deane who he said in his view was being ‘detained’.

Under cross-examination from Inspector Joe McKenna, Mr Harnett denied that he had ‘lost the head’ but it may have been possible that he bumped into Inspector Doherty.

Giving evidence in Mr Harnett’s defence, Mr Eoin Ó Leidhin claimed that Sgt Butler pushed Mr Harnett towards the door and Inspector Doherty purposely stepped in front of him. Mr Leo Mulrooney, BL for Mr Harnett said the evidence of the state suggested that Mr Harnett had performed an assault on Inspector Doherty that would make ‘Bruce Lee green with envy’.

In giving his verdict, Judge Gerard Haughton said that in his attempt to get back into the courtroom, the defendant directed force on Sergeant Butler and Garda Egan and did not have the slightest doubt that they were assaulted. He was also satisfied by the evidence that Mr Harnett also assaulted Inspector Doherty.

In a separate incident, Mr Harnett pleaded guilty to obstructing traffic on the roadway at Pollathomas when a wide load was being transported from the gas terminal in Bellanaboy to Glengad. Sergeant Pat Lavelle said Mr Harnett would not co-operate with them and he was forced to tow his van away.

The court heard that Mr Harnett had previous convictions involving Shell to Sea protests and is awaiting a probation report after being found guilty of assaulting Garda Hugh Egan.

Judge Haughton sentenced Mr Harnett to five months imprisonment for each of the three assault charges, to run consecutively, and disqualified him from driving for two years for the road traffic offence and fined him €400.


The Mayo News (page 16)

Court dismisses obstruction charge

A SHELL to Sea protester who suspended himself from the ground on a 20 foot tripod on Glengad beach was cleared of charges against him at last week’s sitting of Belmullet District Court.

Eoin O’ Leidhin of Barrnacullen, Pollathomas, along with another protester, erected the tripod on Glengad beach at 5.30am on May 14, 2009 and remained in place until 6pm. Tripods of this nature have been deployed by campaigners around the world as a form of direct action, but it is believed that this was the first time tripods have been used in Ireland for this purpose.

Mr O’ Leidhin was charged with wilful obstruction and failing to comply with the direction of a garda but was cleared after Judge Gerald Haughton dismissed the charges.

Sergeant Pat Lavelle told the court that he was on duty in the Shell compound in Glengad where workers were preparing to erect a fence from the compound into the water. He said that at 5.30am he saw nine people erect two tripods and observed Mr O’ Leidhin climb to the top of one, and sit on a seat. He said due to the tripods position workers were unable to commence work.

Under questioning from Mr O’ Leidhin, who represented himself, Sgt Lavelle said he thought it was extremely dangerous and did not want to go near it. However, he acknowledged that he had to give him some credit for the structure and agreed that some thought must have gone into it.

Inspector Joe Doherty explained that he had received complaints from the management on the site that they could not do any work because of the tripods. He said he feared for the safety of the defendant, the people in the vicinity and the workers and asked him to come down in a peaceful manner.

Under questioning from Mr O’ Leidhin, Inspector Doherty said that he spoke to him on a number of times during the day but Mr O’ Leidhin said he only spoke to him once that day.

In evidence, Mr O’ Leidhin said he was eight hours on the tripod before Inspector Doherty asked him to come down and he claimed that Insp Doherty told him, ‘I will give you time’. When this was shown on a tape of the incident, Judge Haughton dismissed the charge saying that this indicated that the defendant would be given more time before he was required again to come down and said he could not convict on the basis of the evidence given in court and the contents of the tape shown in court.

He also dismissed the obstruction charge saying that there was no evidence showing that the defendant knew he was preventing the safe passage of vehicles, though this was undoubtedly so.


The Mayo News (page 16)

Protestors unlawfully detained

NINE Shell to Sea protesters had public order charges against them dismissed at last week’s special sitting of Belmullet District Court after the Judge ruled that they had been unlawfully detained after their arrest.

The protesters had been involved in a ‘lock-on’ and ‘tripod’ protest at Glengad on June 28, 2009, and were arrested for public order offences including wilful obstruction, threatening and abusive behaviour as to cause a breach of the peace and failure to comply with the direction of the gardai.

The challenge was made by legal representatives for Mr Eoin Lawless, of [] Finglas who claimed that he was detained unlawfully for 27 hours, from the time of his arrest until his appearance in court.

The court heard that Mr Lawless was arrested at 2.40pm on Sunday, June 28 and held at the scene until 4.30pm before he was brought to Ballina Garda Station. He arrived at the station at 5.31pm and he wait[ed] until 9.15pm before being charged and cautioned.

He was detained overnight in Ballina Garda Station and only appeared before Ballina District Court on Monday, June 29 at 5.30pm. At the time Gardai were told this would be the earliest time that Judge Mary Devins would hear the case – 27 hours after he was first arrested.

Mr Leo Mulrooney, BL for the defendant argued that the constitutional rights of his client had been breached by his detention at the scene following his arrest and by the delay in bringing him to court. Superintendent Michael Larkin said that because of the number of people arrested the Garda station in Belmullet could not hold all the people and they had to be brought to Ballma. He added that the hearing in Ballina was the earliest opportunity they could bring the defendant before the courts.

After lengthy legal argument between Mr Mulrooney and Mr Vincent Deane, State Solicitor, Judge Gerard Haughton said he had to balance the right of the public to prosecute criminal matters and the constitutional right of the defendant

He said that there was a court in Galway sitting at 10.30am on June 29 and the defendant could and should have been brought before that court. He also added that the charges were not particularly serious and as a result this devalued the period in custody.

Judge Haughton said he was satisfied that there were no malfeasance on behalf of the gardai and they acted in good faith but added this was little comfort to the defendant who was held in custody for 27 hours. He said in those circumstances he was dismisses [sic] the charges.

As as [sic] result of the ruling, Inspector Joe McKenna asked that the charges against the remaining eight defendants be struck out

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