An innocent mother-of-three has been awarded almost €5,000 after Gardaí smashed in her doorway during a raid which proved fruitless.
Gardaí have accepted that children's dance teacher Erica O'Reilly of Croftwood Green, Ballyfermot, Dublin is of good character and nothing illegal was found in her home during the raid on July 27 last year.
However, the Garda Commissioner, Minister for Justice and the State contested her civil claim for damages at Dublin District Court when she accused them of negligence and sought €4,992, the cost repair to her doorway.
Judge Michael Coghlan said today that there was no evidence of wrong-doing on the part of the garda who led the search team after he was given instructions from a superior officer.
“But wrong-doing has occurred to an innocent citizen and I cannot believe the State can remain unaffected by its actions,” he said. He ruled that the State would have to pay Ms O'Reilly the €4,982 and her legal costs.
Ms O'Reilly told Judge Coghlan that she and her three daughters, aged from two to eight, had gone on a camping holiday in Co. Wicklow. On the third day she was told Gardaí had entered her home and it had been damaged.
She later got estimates for repairs from a number of builders but the one that quoted her €4,992 to do the work was the only one that would let her pay by instalment.
She works part-time and her employer also paid the last instalment.
Judge Coghlan heard she had never been in trouble before or in court except for jury duty. She is also garda vetted for work where she teaches dance to young children, the court heard.
She lived alone but had a partner who is a youth worker and a football coach.
She agreed her concern was that Gardaí should have done more to satisfy themselves before breaking the door down. She said no one had been given permission to stay in her home while she was away.
Judge Coghlan was told that a garda from the Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau placed her home under surveillance for four hours over two days, while Ms O'Reilly was away.
The court heard that Gardaí had been acting on information he received from a sergeant who had obtained it from an informant through the Garda Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) system.
The sergeant had told the garda he got it from a “reliable source”.
A warrant was obtained to carry out a search under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
The garda who kept the house under surveillance believed someone else was living there.
However, he did not see anyone go into the house or leave it or note evidence that anyone was inside.
Judge Coghlan heard that the garda spotted known drug users and dealers collecting packages from the front yard. He suspected that these were drug transactions.
The garda who led the search believed they would find a large quantity of cash and cannabis in the house but they found nothing of interest. The garda accepted Ms O'Reilly was a person of good character.
Judge Coghlan was told 10 Gardaí arrived at the house and knocked and there was no reply.
Five minutes later they removed the glass sliding door with a crowbar and forced entry through the timber door with a sledgehammer and a rammer. No one was home but when members of her family arrived they were advised Ms O'Reilly would have to contact the State Claims Agency.
The court heard the woman's partner came to secure the premises after the raid.
Counsel for the State, David Boughton asked the court to note the powers of entry Gardaí have in carrying out their duty and that the house had not been ransacked.
Counsel argued that it would seem to be counter intuitive that a person was left without a remedy. Otherwise it could lead to a floodgate of cases, the State argued.
Judge Coghlan said it appeared that people were solely entering her front garden of her empty house “for the purpose of dropping off and collecting”.
He said Ms O'Reilly was an innocent citizen and the State was hiding behind the generalising of public policy and the right to effect a forcible entry did not “sandbag” it from a claim for damages.