The evidence of Garda Commissioner Drew Harris before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) earlier this month about the controversial prosecution of a civilian Garda employee, has raised some serious questions.
An investigation of the commissioner’s answers, and responses from the Garda Press Office, about the Margiotta case suggest that Mr Harris may have inadvertently given the wrong impression about aspects of the case.
The trial of Lynn Margiotta and her GP brother, Tony, for producing false sick notes, collapsed at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court on March 26.
Ms Margiotta is a civilian employee of An Garda Síochána. Dr Margiotta was accused of providing her with sick notes that were not authentic in 2014, even though gardaí accepted that Ms Margiotta had a medical condition.
Both siblings denied there was anything untoward about how Ms Margiotta acquired the sick notes.
Both claim the case was motivated by a bullying complaint Ms Margiotta made against a Garda three weeks before she was first arrested in August 2014.
In evidence at the PAC on May 9, Mr Harris said there was no record of a bullying complaint in the case.
“None can be found,” he told David Cullinane TD.
However, the Irish Examiner has learned that Ms Margiotta did make a verbal complaint, setting in train a process that would lead to a formal written complaint.
As per public sector policy, there was due to be a meeting to attempt mediation in the issue, but before the meeting could take place, she was arrested over the alleged false sick notes.
This information was conveyed to the Garda Press Office on Monday, for a response in relation to Mr Harris’ evidence, but no response was given.
Separately, the commissioner also appeared to give the PAC the impression that the case was being investigated by the Garda Ombudsman (Gsoc).
Mr Cullinane asked the commissioner if he was of a mind to “personally examine the elements of the case that are in the public domain”.
The commissioner responded: “That is also the subject of a public complaint to Gsoc. The material we are putting together is for its information and I have to wait for it to make its recommendations.”
According to a spokesperson, Gsoc is not currently investigating any aspect of the case that it understands was being referred to at the PAC.
In response to a question on this matter, the Garda Press Office replied that the commissioner was referring to a complaint from 2016.
In fact, the 2016 complaint, a copy of which has been seen by the Irish Examiner, referred to leaks to the media about Ms Margiotta’s arrest.
This was completed without resolution by Gsoc in November 2017.
2014-2019: Sick notes case timeline
Lynn Margiotta is absent from work on a number of occasions following the death of her mother.
She had worked as a civilian employee in An Garda Síochána in Store St station in Dublin since 1999.
Gardaí accept that she was suffering from a medical condition during this period.
Lynn Margiotta makes a complaint of bullying against a garda member. This is made verbally at first as per policy.
Arrangements are put in train to deal with the bullying complaint through the Dignity in Work policy for public servants.
A meeting of union and management is postponed because of holiday arrangements.
Lynn Margiotta is arrested at her home in Navan by guards from Store St.
She is interviewed about sick notes which had been signed by her brother, Dr Tony Margiotta.
She is interviewed without a solicitor being present. The main evidence the gardaí were working off was that a number of sick notes signed by Dr Margiotta bore the stamp of two other GPs.
The process to deal with her complaint of bullying is not continued.
Professor Colin Bradley of UCC delivers a report on GP policy and working arrangements in the use of professional stamps.
Dr Tony Margiotta is interviewed four times under caution about the “sick notes”.
He freely admitted that he signed the notes on the basis of his sister’s medical condition.
Other GPs had signed similar notes on other occasions for Lynn Margiotta.
He tells gardaí there was nothing unusual in using a colleague’s stamp.
Lynn Margiotta is arrested for a second time. A report in the Herald on that day quotes a source as saying this is a “lengthy investigation” into “fake sick certs”.
The source was also quoted as saying: “She was putting in for sick certs on days that it is suspected she was not sick at all.”
This is in conflict with evidence at the subsequent criminal trial which was told by the investigating garda that he believed she was sick at the time.
Lynn and Tony Margiotta are arrested at their homes without notice at 8am to be charged.
The date was a Saturday. Usually charges brought on a Saturday would relate to extradition, executing warrants, or violent or fatal crime.
The solicitors for the siblings are made aware that the DPP would agree to the case being dealt with by the district court if the defendants plead guilty.
If they contest the charges the case will go to the Circuit Criminal Court, greatly raising the prospect of a prison sentence in the event of conviction.
The prosecution is obliged to discover all relevant evidence to the defence at this juncture. The Bradley report is not discovered.
It is unclear if the DPP was in possession of the report. The siblings opt to go for trial at the circuit court.
Defence solicitors receive the Bradley report in discovery for the trial.
If the defendants had pleaded guilty there is no reason to believe the Bradley report would ever have surfaced.
The trial opens in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.
Most of the remainder of the trial is a voir dire, effectively a trial within a trial in the absence of the jury to determine if particular evidence should be admitted.
The trial collapses after Judge Patricia Ryan rules that Lynn Margiotta was denied the right to a solicitor while under arrest and her privacy had been breached by accessing her medical records without her consent or a warrant.
After four and a half years Lynn and Tony Margiotta finally have the cloud of a criminal conviction and possible prison sentence lifted.
Lynn Margiotta has not been formally contacted by her employer despite the end of the criminal proceedings.
For most of the last four and a half years she was without an income.