The Margiotta family are entitled to the truth and it is in everyone’s interest that the whole investigation is completed expeditiously, writes Michael Clifford.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris had an unenviable task when he appeared before the Policing Authority over the last three months. On each occasion, he was asked questions about the Margiotta case.
On March 26, a case against Garda civilian employee Lynn Margiotta and her GP brother Tony collapsed at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. They had been accused of producing and presenting “fraudulent instruments” in the form of sick notes in 2014.
At the trial, the investigating garda said he accepted that Ms Margiotta was indeed sick when she presented the notes, but that wasn’t the issue. What mattered was how the notes were produced. This was the first case of its kind in which the presentation of sick notes by an individual was suspected of being fraudulently obtained from a doctor known to her.
Coincidentally, Ms Margiotta was first arrested three weeks after she indicated she was making a formal bullying complaint against a garda member. A key element to the Garda’s case was that Tony Margiotta had signed the notes but used the stamp of two other GPs.
An expert report into sick notes appeared to conclude that the manner in which Tony Margiotta used another GP’s stamp was not unusual, and certainly not illegal. Yet this report was only discovered to the defence at a very late stage, four years after it was obtained by the gardaí.
The trial never proceeded to a jury because the trial judge ruled that Lynn Margiotta’s rights to a solicitor while in custody, and her right to privacy, had been abused. Multiple questions arose from the case.
Two days later, Mr Harris appeared before the authority. They asked questions of him but were not fully satisfied with his replies. On April 16, the Irish Examiner published two articles about the case that gave rise to a number of serious issues. Two days later, Mr Harris again appeared before the authority.
Again the members asked questions and again they were not satisfied with the answers. Over the following month, other aspects of the case came into the public domain through the pages of the Irish Examiner.
On May 24, the authority once more quizzed the commissioner. At the end of that, it would appear they were not satisfied. On June 7, the matter was referred to GSOC for a full investigation. This is the first known time that the authority has felt compelled to use its powers to refer a specific case for investigation to GSOC.
Presumably, if Mr Harris was in full possession of the facts, he would have furnished answers to the authority. He had an opportunity to set up an internal investigation to examine the actions of some of his officers after the collapse of the court case but he chose not to do so. That’s troubling.
However, members of the Policing Authority found this case to be worthy of serious consideration. At issue is prima facia evidence that police powers of arrest, investigation and prosecution were used against innocent civilians to possibly pursue an agenda.
Despite the publication of details of the case in the pages of the Irish Examiner, there has been little interest from the various centres of power. Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins asked a Dáil question and wrote to the authority. Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane raised the issue at the Public Accounts Committee. Apart from those interventions, the body politic gave it a wide berth.
The Minister for Justice has largely avoided the case. The Garda Commissioner, as stated above, didn’t deem it worthy of investigation. The trade union representing Ms Margiotta has made no comment on the treatment of its member. In such a milieu, the Policing Authority deserves credit for being on the ball, curious and persistent.
There are bound to be other questions that the GSOC investigators will want answered.
The fervent hope is that the whole investigation is completed expeditiously. As Lynn Margiotta told the Irish Examiner, her family has been put through this for nearly five years.
They are entitled to be furnished with the truth as soon as possible.