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"Proven to be protesters, not criminals" - Jobstown six speak out

Defendants in the Jobstown trial led by Paul Murphy TD leave the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court
Defendants in the Jobstown trial led by Paul Murphy TD leave the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court

There were jubilant scenes in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court today after the six men accused of falsely imprisoning Joan Burton and her adviser were found not guilty of all charges.

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy, along with South Dublin County Councillor Michael Murphy, South Dublin County Councillor Kieran Mahon, Scott Masterson, Frank Donaghy and Michael Banks were on trial for 40 days.

They had pleaded not guilty to falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and her adviser Karen

O’Connell by restricting their personal liberty without their consent at Fortunestown Road, Jobstown, Tallaght during a anti-water charges protest on November 15, 2014.

The jury of seven men and four women returned the verdicts today after three hours and 10 minutes of deliberations. One juror was discharged during the trial for personal reasons.

The packed courtroom erupted in cheers and chants of “No way, we won't pay” after the 12 verdicts were handed down. Several supporters broke down in tears, while the defendants nodded and smiled at the jury.

Speaking outside court, Michael Banks read out a statement on behalf of all the men, who he said were now vindicated by the unanimous verdicts.

“We spent nine weeks in court and we’re now vindicated, can walk free from the courts proven to be protesters and not criminals,” Mr Banks said, adding the case was “an attempt to criminalise the largest movement of people power in decades”.

The jury returned the verdicts shortly after midday, after they asked to view video footage of the garda jeep on Fortunestown Road to see if it could reverse.

In her charge to the jury, Judge Melanie Greally outlined the definition of the charge of false imprisonment, which she said must involve “total restraint”. She said if there was a means of escape, or egress, than the restraint could not be total.

Judge Greally said the jury must consider whether Ms Burton and Ms O'Connell had a means of escape, and she outlined three possible options, including that the Jeep could have reversed down Fortunestown Road, as advised by the Garda Air Support Unit.

After the verdicts were handed down, Judge Greally said the court owed the jury a “huge debt of gratitude” for their “exemplary service”. She said they had demonstrated extreme bravery and courage in taking on the case, which ran for nine weeks.

She exempted them from jury duty for life.

The trial, which started on April 26, heard the two women were attending a graduation ceremony at An Cosán adult education centre in Jobstown when anti-water charge demonstrations broke out around them. The jury heard they were detained in vehicles for three hours as they attempted to leave the area.

The prosecution case was that by surrounding the cars, the accused men engaged in a joint enterprise to “trap” the women and totally restrain their liberty.

Although it was accepted the defendants did not engage in any acts of violence, the prosecution alleged that the protest was not peaceful and that there was a risk to Ms Burton's safety. They submitted the two women were entitled to leave Jobstown and that by surrounding the cars, the accused men prevented them from doing so.

The defence argued there was never any false imprisonment and that the defendants were simply exercising their constitutional right of peaceful assembly.

They argued that by obstructing the car, the six men were at most inconveniencing or delaying the women, or being a nuisance. These were all features of a peaceful protest as recognised by the European Courts, the jury was told.

They submitted that for the first part of the alleged false imprisonment in the churchyard, gardaí made the decision to keep the women in the car while they waited for reinforcements.

Defence counsel alleged it was a “fear of violence” on the part of others, not the actions of their clients, that led gardaí to make this decision.

Sean Guerin SC, defending Paul Murphy, said his client in fact helped to facilitate the movement of the women when they were on Fortunestown Road, by encouraging the crowd to slow-march the car out of the area.

The defence argued that the case was politically motivated and was an attempt on the part of the political establishment to assert itself in the face of the successful campaign against water charges.

Mr Guerin told the jury the verdicts in this case would “fix the limits of our freedom to hold our leaders to account” through peaceful protest.

“This is not just a legal issue. You're being asked to fix the limits of our political rights,” he said.

Many of the defence counsel were highly critical of the garda investigation, with Raymond Comyn SC, telling the jury there was “something rotten at the core of the investigation”. He submitted evidence given by gardaí was proved “demonstrably wrong” in court by the video footage.

In her charge to the jury, Judge Greally they should regard the video footage from that day as the “primary and most reliable evidence”.

She said video footage at times contradicted the witness testimony in the case and that the video footage was independent and not subjected to the “frailties of human memory”.

The trial also heard that gardaí investigating the case did not take any statements from protester witnesses and cancelled house-to-house enquiries. They took 180 garda statements and 57 from civilian witnesses, mostly from people in An Cosán, but none from the 250 to 300 protesters who were estimated to be present in Jobstown that day.

Defence counsel submitted the root cause of an escalation in the protest had to be “laid firmly at the door of gardaí”, who they said were unprepared, made tactical errors by placing the women in the car in the first place and who they said failed to negotiate with protesters.

They submitted that the DPP had a range of charges to choose from under the Public Order Act, including obstruction of traffic and failure to disperse. But instead, the defence submitted, the DPP brought a charge of false imprisonment which could not possibly be proved.

They submitted there was no intent on the part of the accused to detain the women, and that there was no evidence “good, bad or indifferent” in the case to prove otherwise.

Towards the end of the trial, the prosecution told the judge in the absence of the jury that Paul Murphy had been tweeting “pointed references to evidence heard in the trial”.

Paul Murphy was active on Twitter throughout the trial, retweeting claims by his supporters and urging everyone to keep tweeting under the #JobstownNotGuilty hashtag.

Judge Greally said, “If steps have been taken and Paul Murphy has been advised of the potential consequences of engaging in these sort of Tweets at this point in the trial, I will say no more.”