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Two Shell protesters on trail for violent disorder


Two Shell protesters on trial for violent disorder at Mayo compound


A ‘MOB’ involved in a ‘running battle’ were some of words used to described a protest at a Shell compound in Erris that is now at the centre of a Circuit Court trial involving two protesters.
Gerry Bourke (50) of Aughoose, Pollathomas, Ballina, and Liam Heffernan (30) of Kilnagear, Belcarra, Castlebar, both pleaded not guilty to single charges of violent disorder and criminal damage alleged to have occurred at a Shell compound at Aughoose, Pollathomas, in north Mayo on June 23, 2013.
It is claimed by the prosecution that Mr Bourke caused damage to Heras fencing to the perimeter of the compound, and Mr Heffernan is also accused of causing damage to wooden railings in the compound.
The trial, before Judge Petria McDonnell, heard that up to 70 protesters entered the compound and were accused of causing criminal damage to machinery and equipment on the site.
The jury of six men and six women heard evidence over five days from a number of prosecution witnesses, who included security officers and gardaí.
A number of witnesses involved in the protest described a tense atmosphere where objects were thrown by the protesters with former Garda Superintendent Pat Doyle describing it as ‘one of the most violent situations’ he has ever experienced in his life.
Sergeant Martha Lohan told yesterday’s sitting of the trial in Castlebar that she was on patrol in the Aughoose area when she heard of a protest at the main gate of the compound. She said she parked her vehicle and witnessed the protesters going to the Lenamore side of the compound.
She said the protesters entered the site and she went to Gate 7, which she said was a high fence that divided the compound. She said the security got into the inner compound and the protesters started to fire objects over the fence. Sgt Lohan said she feared for her safety as the protesters were trying to breach a large metal double gate and likened them to a mob.
Sgt Lohan said the gates weren’t breached and the protesters soon retreated to the edge of the compound near the shore where she said some had a picnic.
Gerry Bourke and Liam Heffernan were later arrested by gardaí, and during questioning Mr Bourke was asked if he regretted anything. He replied he regretted the last ten years saying he and his family have been tortured by the Corrib gas project and by security driving through their village at night.
Under cross examination from Mr Conor Dignam, SC for Mr Heffernan, Sgt Lohan said only six protesters were arrested because they could not identify a number of protesters and they were unable to locate others.
Evidence was heard from a number of witnesses during the course of the trial, including Jim Farrell who was the director of Senaca Group, which provided the security to the Corrib gas project.
Mr Farrell said there was a ‘sense of urgency’ in the protesters’ attempts to get into the compound, and he claimed ‘every item of equipment was targeted by individuals’.
He said he was surrounded by protesters who he said knocked his hard hat off with a punch, ripped his hi-vis clothing and took his safety glasses from his face. He said he was concerned for the safety of his men and that they had no option but to withdraw to an inner compound.
Video evidence captured by CCTV and by security officers with camcorders was shown to the jury. One of the security officers, Alan Wells, said he was working at the Shell compound when up to 70 protesters arrived at the main gate shouting abuse.
At 1.30pm, he said he was called to the Lenamore side of the compound where protesters had gathered, and he started videoing the events.
Mr Wells explained that the protesters were pulling down the perimeter fence and the security guards had to pull back because they were only 15 security officers.
Mr Wells said the protesters were pushing and shoving with the security, and he described the scene as a ‘running battle’. They were ‘throwing anything they’d find at us’, he said, and he claimed they were ‘doing damage’ to equipment on the site.
Mr Wells admitted during questioning from Mr Brendan Nix, SC for Mr Bourke, that if he lived within 200 metres of the gas pipeline, he would ‘be very wary of it’.
The prosecution evidence was completed and the defence is expected to go into evidence today (Tuesday).