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Ballina man found not guilty of harassment

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Man ordered to keep one-mile distance from accusers for ten years, despite verdict

A Ballina man who was charged with harassment of four teenage girls in the town has been found not guilty.
The verdict in the trial of Michael Brogan (67) of Carrowcushlaun, Church Road, Ballina, was delivered on Friday afternoon last after a three-day trial.
After the jury members delivered their not-guilty verdict, they also made the recommendation that Mr Brogan receive psychiatric help.
Judge Rory McCabe responded that such help was a matter for Mr Brogan, but he did say that there were provisions in the law for harassment cases he could implement, such as ordering a defendant to keep a distance from the complainants, even after being found not guilty.
He made such an order and directed Mr Brogan not to approach any of the complainants or be within one mile of where they live, their school or their work for the next ten years.
Judge McCabe also said he wanted to ‘commend the four injured parties for the steps they took’. He said they ‘acted responsibly’ and that they are ‘a credit to themselves and a credit to their parents’.

Harassment charges
Mr Brogan was charged with four counts of harassment (one count for each of the complainants) on dates between July 5, 2016, and August 9, 2016, at various locations in Ballina town centre.
Each of the four girls, all of whom cannot be named because of their age, gave evidence. Two of them were 14 years old and two of them were 15 years old at the time of the alleged incidents.
Opening the case, prosecution counsel Pat Reynolds told the jury of seven men and five women that the case centred on allegations that Mr Brogan followed the four girls and engaged in the act of masturbation in public in their vicinity.
One of the girls told the court that on July 5, 2016, they were going down the escalator in Penneys, Ballina, when they saw a man standing near the women’s lingerie section with his hand in his pocket, and she alleged he was masturbating.
She said she recorded him as they walked by. Subsequently they went to the back of Lidl and were sitting on a wall when one of the girls spotted the same man looking around the wall to where they were.
“We thought he was following us. I felt very scared, it was creepy,” she said. She identified the man in both instances as Michael Brogan.
The same girl went on to give evidence of sitting with her friends at a bus stop near Dunnes Stores and Mr Brogan coming over, standing behind them with his hand in his pocket. She alleged he was masturbating.
She also told of an incident where herself and one of her friends, another complainant, were collecting at a flag day outside the discount store in Ballina, alleging that Mr Brogan stood close by for ‘five to ten minutes’ masturbating.
She also spoke of an incident in Centra, Ballina, on August 6, where Mr Brogan walked past them, doubled back and sat near them in the eating area.
Finally, she said on August 9, she was walking with a friend down the town when she saw Mr Brogan outside the discount store and claimed he was masturbating there.
Footage recorded by the girls and CCTV was shown to the court in relation to four of the six incidents.
Each of the other three girls gave supporting evidence in relation to the particular allegations they were present for.

‘Shaking’
Defending counsel Brendan McDonagh put it to each of the girls that he was going to call medical evidence that Mr Brogan has a tremor in his left arm and hand which caused the girls to ‘misinterpret’ what was happening.
They each refuted this. One girl said of the incidents ‘I didn’t see him shaking once, it (his hand) was moving up and down’.
Referring to the incident at Lidl, another girl said Mr Brogan was ‘peeping’ at them.
Some of the girls also gave evidence of Mr Brogan holding a newspaper with his right hand, which they alleged he used to shield what he was doing.
Another girl alleged the behaviour was ‘going on a long time’ and that ‘he repeatedly masturbated in front of us’.

Holes in trousers’ pockets
Sergeant Donal Raftery gave evidence of arresting Michael Brogan on August 12. He said the trousers Mr Brogan was wearing had a large tear in the left pocket. A search of Mr Brogan’s house found eight more pairs of trousers with a similar sized tear. All nine trousers were tendered into evidence.
Defending counsel Brendan McDonagh put it to Sergeant Raftery that the holes were caused by ‘wear and tear’. Sergeant Raftery said it was his opinion that the holes had been cut out.
In a Garda interview, Michael Brogan, who did not go into the witness box, told Sergeant Raftery and Sergeant Mick Doherty he lived at home alone in a house he built himself ten years ago. Prior to that he had worked in scaffolding in England for 40 years.
He said he had mobility problems since the 1990s and needed to wear a cast to help with his balance.
He said his trousers were ripped, not cut. He said the harassment allegations being put to him were ‘a complete misunderstanding’.
“I wasn’t masturbating, I’m gone past that,” he said.

Neurological complaints
The defence called two medical witnesses, Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald, who is Mr Brogan’s GP, and Mr John Lynch, a consultant neurologist in University Hospital Galway who has been treating Mr Brogan since 2012.
Mr Lynch said Brogan suffers from a cerebellum disorder that affects his movement.
He said Brogan suffers difficulty with balance, a tremor from his upper left arm down to his left hand, slurred speech and difficulty with eye movement.  He described Mr Brogan’s tremor as ‘particularly disabling’ and that it can be ‘embarrassing socially’. He said patients often try to conceal it by placing their hand into a pocket. He said the tremor can be worsened by stress and causes ‘day-to-day difficulties’.  
He said the tremor Mr Brogan has is ‘impossible to cure’ and ‘very difficult to improve with treatment’.
Dr Fitzgerald said the arm movement from the tremor was a ‘jerking movement’. She described his medical difficulties as presenting like somebody who has multiple sclerosis.
In closing, Brendan McDonagh said Michael Brogan was putting his left hand into his trouser pocket when the tremor would arrive and that the four girls had misinterpreted what they saw.
He said his client is right handed and argued that there was no damage to any right-hand pocket and that all of the wear and tear was on the side where he had ‘a pronounced, unavoidable and uncontrolled shake’.
He asked the jury that if Mr Brogan was masturbating, would he continue to do so when girls were clearly recording him with their phones.
He argued that Mr Brogan had not been following the girls and that five such encounters in a small town in a five-week period would be unremarkable but for the girls belief that Mr Brogan was masturbating.
After deliberating for 85 minutes, the jury returned an unanimous verdict of not guilty to each of the four counts of harassment, with the recommendation that Michael Brogan receive psychiatric treatment.

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