Cork man sues for damages over alleged unlawful arrest at Shell to Sea protest

Cork man sues for damages over alleged unlawful arrest at Shell to Sea protest
File photo from a Shell to Sea protest in 2012.

A High Court jury is due to begin considering its verdict on a damages action by a man who claims he was unlawfully assaulted by gardaí during a Shell to Sea protest in Co. Mayo.

The protest held on August 20, 2011, was aimed at frustrating the approach to the Shell refinery entrance of a vehicle convoy on the public road at Glenamoy, near Belmullet.

A video recording of the protest was shown during Raymond Hanrahan’s case against the Garda Commissioner and State.

Evidence in the three-day case before Mr Justice Max Barrett and a jury concluded today and the jury is expected to begin deliberations on Wednesday after hearing closing speeches and the judge’s charge.

Mr Hanrahan (aged 50), with an address at Fairhill, Cork, claims he was unlawfully arrested and falsely imprisoned on August 20, 2011, for about three hours before being released after being charged at Belmullet garda station with criminal damage to a Garda jacket. He also alleges malicious prosecution.

The claims are denied.

The jury will decide the claims of unlawful arrest and false imprisonment and the judge will decide the malicious prosecution claim.

In opening the case, Desmond Dockery SC, with Maura McNally SC, for Mr Hanrahan, said his client’s District Court conviction for criminal damage to the jacket was overturned by the Circuit Court on appeal in 2012.

That happened after the defence queried how it was being claimed the left side of Garda Justin Browne’s jacket was ripped when video footage indicated an epaulette was removed from the right side of a jacket, he outlined.

Counsel said Garda Browne, who in August 2011 was temporarily stationed at Belmullet garda station from Drumlish garda station, had told the Circuit Court the jacket produced must be the incorrect one and he did not know where the correct one was.

Mr Dockery said the Circuit Court judge, following that evidence, allowed Mr Hanrahan’s appeal against conviction.

In his evidence, Mr Hanrahan said his ponytail was gripped from behind and he was pulled to the ground by several gardaí at about 1.20pm on August 20, 2011.

That happened after he removed an epaulette, containing an identification number, from the right shoulder of the yellow high-vis jacket of a Garda he later knew to be Garda Browne, he said.

Garda Browne had earlier pushed him roughly, almost causing him to fall on top of another protester, and he wanted to get his number for the purpose of making a complaint, he said.

He did not know the epaulette was detachable, had touched it with his thumb and forefinger to see the Garda number more clearly and had not torn or damaged the jacket, he said.

In cross-examination by Colm Smyth SC, Mr Hanrahan denied he was not ill-treated by gardaí. He agreed he did not make a complaint of injury in Belmullet garda station and said he adopted a policy of saying no comment to questions from the member in charge of the station.

He disagreed with counsel the task of gardaí at the Shell protests was to keep the peace.

In his evidence, Garda Browne said an epaulette was forcibly removed by Mr Hanrahan from his high vis jacket, he had gone after Mr Hanrahan to recover it, arrested Mr Hanrahan for the offence of criminal damage and cautioned him.

In cross-examination, he agreed the high vis jacket is no longer available and he had not followed the chain of custody rules concerning evidence.

He denied suggestions he had pushed back and assaulted Mr Hanrahan using excessive force and had no reasonable suspicion for arresting him on a criminal damage charge. His concern was to keep people from breaching the Garda cordon and out of the path of an oncoming tractor and this was a “frantic” incident which had to be dealt with “in split seconds”.

The jury has also heard evidence from another protester and from a number of gardaí.

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