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High Court jury fails to agree on alleged Garda assault

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High Court jury fails to agree over Garda assault of fishermen brothers


A High Court jury last week failed to reach agreement as to whether leading anti-Corrib gas protestor Pat ‘The Chief’ O’Donnell and his brother, Michael O’Donnell, were assaulted by gardaí during a protest outside the Corrib gas refinery at Bellanaboy, on January 19, 2007. A disagreement in relation to the two cases was formally entered.  
The jury dismissed a claim by a third man, local farmer, Patrick Coyle, that he was assaulted during the same protest.
Patrick Coyle, of Barnatra, Ballina, and Patrick and Martin O’Donnell, with addresses at Porturlin, Shore, Ballina, had separately sued the Garda Commissioner and State for damages, including punitive damages, over alleged unlawful assaults.
After deliberating for almost four hours on Friday last, the jury of seven men and four women told Mr Justice Paul McDermott that they had failed to agree a verdict in the case of the O’Donnell brothers, and that they rejected Mr Coyle’s claims.
In separate civil actions heard together over seven days, all three men had alleged the assaults happened between 7.30am and 8am, when gardaí corralled protesters onto one side of the road to facilitate a convoy carrying workers to the Corrib site refinery.
The men claimed they were assaulted after a Garda Sergeant gave an order to remove a particular protestor from the crowd. Mr Coyle alleged he was struck in the face by Garda Marvin Lee. He also alleged he was struck in the back of the head and was knocked to the ground. It was alleged the person who struck Mr Coyle in the back of the head was Garda Peter Lee, the father of Marvin Lee.
Pat O’Donnell alleged he was punched by a Garda, also alleged to be Peter Lee, in the face when he went to help Mr Coyle, while Martin O’Donnell alleged he was also punched in the face by a garda when he went to the aid of his brother.

Disputed claims
The gardaí disputed the claims and denied also the claim that there was an order from a sergeant to take a named protestor out of the crowd.
Garda Marvin Lee said he was grabbed by the lapels by Patrick O’Donnell and dragged into a ‘frenzied’ crowd, saying he feared he might be put over the parapet of Bellanaboy Bridge. Garda Lee’s father, Garda Peter Lee, said he used physical force to get his son away from the crowd. Both gardaí denied they assaulted any of the three men.
The jury was played a Garda video recorded during the protest, but some eight minutes of the protest during the period when it was alleged the assaults occurred were not recorded.
Mr Micheal P O’Higgins SC, for the plaintiffs, asked the judge to note that Mr Coyle had suffered an injury and that the court was unaware how close the jury decision in his case may have been. He asked the judge to consider making no order for costs, which means that each side would pay their own. Mr Colm Smyth SC for the defence opposed that application and said the claim had placed the reputations of certain gardaí on the line.
He sought costs for Mr Coyle’s case.
The judge said he would award costs against Mr Coyle and adjourned to a later date a decision on costs in the other two cases.