Most gardaí would probably run a mile from a courthouse while off-duty.
They spend enough time attending court while at work, so, naturally, few would be likely to embark on a busman’s holiday.
John Wilson isn’t most gardaí. On Jan 12, 2012, he was present for the hearing of a district court case in Cavan courthouse while on a day’s annual leave. He had a particular interest in the case for hearing. A retired couple from Virginia, Walter and Genevieve Smith, had approached him previously about what they alleged was harassment from some members of the force. This alleged harassment occurred in the course of a dispute that arose with the Smiths’ neighbour.
On Jan 12, 2012, the Smiths found themselves before the court on a serious criminal charge of harassment (of their neighbour) under Section 10 of the Non-fatal Offences Against The Person Act. Judge Sean McBride didn’t even hear all the evidence before throwing out the case.
He was “critical of [the] Garda investigation stating that this was a waste of valuable time and resources”, according to a Garda report on the case. It was the third time that the Smiths had been dragged into court, and on each occasion the case against them was dismissed as having no basis.
Mr Wilson was in court that day and he spoke to the Smiths, sitting next to them at one stage. By early 2012, he was a whistleblower within the force, having reported on several malpractices, including the operation of the penalty points system.
On Feb 9, Mr Wilson received a letter from Chief Supt James Sheirdan, the divisional officer for Cavan/Monghan, directing him to account for his presence in the court on the day of the case against the Smiths.
Mr Wilson responded by inquiring what allegation was being made against him, and under what regulation was he was required to account for himself.
“I was off-duty on 12 January 2012 and on a day’s annual leave,” he responded. “I have the right to go where I please when I am off duty and provided that I do not break any laws it is none of Inspector Farrelly’s business what I was doing in the courthouse on that day.”
Insp Farrelly had reported Mr Wilson’s presence at the court. No allegation of misconduct was made against him, and no breach of regulation was ever cited. Repeatedly, Wilson received correspondence that he was “duty bound” to account for himself, without reference to any regulation.
When he failed to respond, he was subjected to a disciplinary process for failing to respond.
A superintendent, Sean Farrell, was appointed to interview him and decide whether or not he should be subject to sanction. Wilson met with the deciding officer, and says that he taped the conversation for his own protection.
Supt Farrell concluded that Wilson was guilty of two breaches, and minor sanctions of “advice” and “warning” should apply. Irrespective of the wholly innocuous sanctions, the ruling did blemish Wilson’s record.
Wilson appealed the ruling. He wasn’t notified who the appeal officer was, but on June 26, 2012, he received a letter from Chief Supt Patrick McGee stating that following a review, he was affirming the decision to discipline Mr Wilson.
Mr Wilson retired from An Garda Síochána in June of last year, largely as a result of what he perceived as his treatment since he first made his allegations of malpractice.
He instigated judicial review proceedings on the disciplinary process and a ruling is expected from the High Court in the coming weeks.
He has yet to receive his certificate of service, an effective reference to be used in search of other work. Mr Wilson is convinced that he was subjected to the whole process and outcome simply because he can become a thorn in the side of the force he had served for nearly three decades.
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