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Former garda wins defamation case against ‘The Chief’

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Pat O'Donnell
DENIED REMARKS Pat O’Donnell.

Former garda wins defamation case against ‘The Chief’


Áine Ryan

A FORMER garda sergeant has been awarded €33,000 damages in a defamation case he took against a leading member of the Corrib gas protest.
Mr James Gill claimed that north Mayo fisherman, Pat O’Donnell,  known locally as The Chief, accused him, within the earshot of protestors and gardaí, of stealing diesel and of smuggling tyres, during a protest at Ballinaboy, on November 3, 2006.
Mr Gill, who was station sergeant at Bangor Erris, north Mayo, policed the controversial protest over a number of years. He retired at the beginning of November, after almost 34 years in the force.
Sitting in Castlebar Circuit Civil Court on Friday last, Judge Margaret Heneghan said: “I am told all the plaintiff wanted was an apology but it was not forthcoming”.
“I am satisfied that these words were spoken by Pat O’Donnell and were intended to mean that Mr Gill was dishonest,” Judge Heneghan said.
She said she was awarding part of the settlement as aggravated damages because of the manner in which the defence was taken.
During the hearing on Wednesday, Mr Gill  told the court that Mr O’Donnell has also whispered in his ear: “You are a f***ing sissy.”
Seamus Ruane, counsel for the plaintiff, explained the offending words were spoken as a line of gardaí walked alongside around 100 protestors who gathered each morning to block Shell workers and lorries from entering the works site. Mr O’Donnell was at the top of the line, with gardaí to the fore and the roadside.
Mr Gill told the court: “It was a difficult enough job to police the Corrib gas protests. There was a huge credibility issue if people thought I was a smuggler and a thief.”

He said he felt his reputation, and that of his family, had been sullied. He also told the court  he was jeered at during subsequent protests and that, while formerly such heckling was like water off a duck’s back, this caused him distress and affected his home life.
Mr Ruane argued that Mr O’Donnell‘s remarks were made to intimate the garda sergeant was “a thief and a smuggler” and to disparage him. Mr Ruane said the incident had exacerbated his client’s gastric condition and caused him psychological distress.
Mr O’Donnell denies the allegation, claiming he was referring to diesel that was stolen, back in 1997 or 1998, from a tank he had on Porturlin Pier for his fishing boats. He claimed he reported the incident but the prosecution said there was no garda record of the report at Glenamoy Garda Station.
Mr O’Donnell also said that another reference he made at the protest to ‘upholding and breaking the law’ related to the fact that gardaí policing the Corrib protest were on their best behaviour if the media or politicians were present – as they were on the day in question – but were heavy-handed when there were no witnesses. His counsel, Leo Mulrooney, told the court that Mr O’Donnell never said anything about smuggling tyres on the day in questions.
Pat O’Donnell told the court he did not make any remarks directly to retired Sgt Gill.
“It was annoying me that there were up to 200 gardaí at the protest policing for Shell and I said something about ‘working for Shell when you can’t police the community’. The Sgt Gill looked back at me and said ‘are you referring to me Mr O’Donnell?’ and I said: ‘I am not talking to you at all, Sgt Gill.”
Mr Leo Mulrooney, counsel for the defence, argued that  there were ‘significant discrepancies between what Mr Gill says and [what was heard on] the garda videoptape”. Garda witnesses had corroborated the uttering of the offending words.
Mr Mulrooney also said the retired garda’s claim he was suffering from post-traumatic stress and that his gastric condition had been exacerbated by the incident was “far-fetched”. He noted that Mr Gill attended his GP since 2000 for the gastric condition.