Statements ‘not an exact science’

A Garda sergeant at the Charleton Tribunal has said that taking a victim statement was “not an exact science”, when asked about a statement made by the partner of a Garda whistleblower.

Statements ‘not an exact science’

Sergeant Brigid McGowan was outlining contacts between the HSE and gardaí about welfare concerns over the children of Marisa Simms, partner of whistle-blower Keith Harrison in 2013.

The sergeant disagreed with Hugh Hartnett, counsel for Ms Simms, who put it to her that she and a garda inspector had been “suggesting things — that you were saying things to her during this eight-hour interview”.

Sgt McGowan insisted that the words in Ms Simms’ statement were the words of the alleged victim, and that in the course of taking a statement, questions could be asked to clarify names, dates, or places.

Sgt McGowan said she first learned about Garda Harrison on February 9, 2013, when she was contacted by Una Coll from the HSE about an anonymous letter mentioning him and expressing concerns about child welfare.

“I knew he was a guard and I knew he was stationed in Donegal. I hadn’t heard anything about him before 2012,” said Sgt McGowan.

After meeting with Ms Coll, Sgt McGowan forwarded a report to Eugene McGovern, the superintendent in charge of the Milford district in Donegal.

She said she checked the Pulse system to find out the address of Ms Simms and found that Garda Harrison had also checked her details numerous times.

In March 2013, Sgt McGowan met again with the HSE, which informed her “that the matter is now closed to them as there are no child welfare concerns in this case”.

In October 2013, Sgt McGowan learned about concerns regarding Garda Harrison from the mother and sister of Ms Simms, Rita and Paul McDermott.

On October 6, Sgt McGowan and Insp Goretti Sheridan took a statement from Ms Simms in Letterkenny Garda Station.

In the statement, Ms Simms alleged Garda Harrison had threatened to “bury” herself and her sister during an argument because he had not been invited to a wedding, and that he had said “I am going to burn you.”

Sgt McGowan denied having told Ms Simms to “think of her children”, and said she was shocked to learn that Ms Simms claimed this had occurred.

Sgt McGowan said when Ms Simms completed her statement, “I felt at the end she was a relieved woman, almost as if she had unburdened herself.”

Sgt McGowan said because there were child welfare issues, gardaí were obliged to notify the HSE.

The HSE form noted “emotional abuse” and gave details that a child was “present during argument between mother and partner”.

Sgt McGowan said she had no control over who might see the form in the HSE, so she did not want to put too much detail in.

On October 21, a strategy meeting was arranged with the HSE, and Sgt McGowan said she disclosed details of the argument between Garda Harrison and Ms Simms at this meeting.

Tribunal barrister Kathleen Leader said it appeared the HSE would disagree about how much detail it was given at this meeting.

“Definitively during the course of that meeting I told them about the threats that had been made while the children were present,” said Sgt McGowan.

“I specifically remember the meeting. I know I told them about the threats to burn because that was the purpose of the meeting, that the serious threats were there.”

Questioned in the afternoon session yesterday, Sgt McGowan said she found it “disturbing and upsetting” when a letter was sent to Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone claiming she had threatened “repercussions” if Ms Simms failed to make a statement.

Sgt McGowan said the letter, sent by solicitors for Garda Harrison and Ms Simms, stated that “during her eight-hour interview, she [Ms Simms] was coerced into making a statement with a threat that if she didn’t, there may be repercussions for her and her children”.

Sgt McGowan said the statement could have been forwarded from the minister to the Department of Justice and from there, to the Garda commissioner and her superiors.

“I just found that very upsetting,” said Sgt McGowan.

Mark Harty, representing Garda Harrison, said it was never the case that a barring order had been granted against his client, as had been alleged in an anonymous letter sent to the HSE in February 2012.

Hugh Hartnett, on behalf of Ms Simms, said it was not the case that Garda Harrison banged his fist on a car dashboard, but rather that he threw his keys against it.

In January 2014, Ms Simms withdrew her statement of complaint, following which Sgt McGowan informed the HSE.

On February 27, the HSE advised gardaí that as there were no ongoing child welfare or protection issues following an initial assessment, the case would be closed.

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