Wednesday, May 10, 2023

High Court Reporters

A High Court jury has awarded over €500,000 in damages to a 62-year-old former League of Ireland player after it found he was assaulted by members of An Garda Siochana.

Michael Sheehan from Hillquarter, Coosan, Athlone, Co Westmeath had sued the Garda Commissioner, the Minister for Justice and the State claiming that he suffered injuries after he was allegedly pepper sprayed and assaulted by gardaí in an incident that occurred in the centre of the town on the night of June 3rd, 2012.

The defendants fully denied claims that the gardaí had assaulted and falsely imprisoned the plaintiff on the night in question or were negligent or in breach of their duty of care towards Mr Sheehan.

In his action Mr Sheehan said that on the night in question he was arrested following an interaction with three members of the gardaí following an alleged public order incident in Irishtown, Athlone.

The incident occurred while he was making his way home from a pub in Athlone with two others, his son Alan Sheehan, who is a well-known figure in Irish and English soccer, and his nephew Daragh Quinn. 

Mr Sheehan claimed that during the incident he was arrested, assaulted by a garda who he claimed used unreasonable force and had acted in a very aggressive manner and had falsely imprisoned him.

Pepper spray was applied by the gardaí directly into his face from extremely close range. He also claimed that while he was being taken to the Garda barracks he was manhandled, was struck on the back of the head, and kneed in the back.

The court also heard that Mr Sheehan was subsequently acquitted of committing any offence under the Public Order Act by a criminal court.

Represented by Moira Flahive SC, Caroline Latham Bl instructed by Donal McGann of Alastair Purdy & Co Solicitors Mr Sheehan said he had never come to the attention of the gardaí prior or since the incident in 2012.

Arising out of the incident Mr Sheehan said that he suffered injuries to his face, head and back. He also claimed that he suffered from depression and insomnia, as a result of what had happened to him.

It also affected his relationship with family members and left him unable to deal with his late wife’s cancer, the court also heard. 

Mr Sheehan, a father and grandfather, is well-known in sporting circles had previously played football for Athlone Town and other clubs in the League of Ireland.

He also played GAA locally and intercounty football for Westmeath.

He had many relatives who had served in An Garda Siochana, including his grandfather, father and a son-in-law, and had almost become a member himself, the court heard.

His son Alan Sheehan played soccer professionally in England for many years, including spells at Leeds United, Leicester City, Luton Town and Notts County, and had also been capped at U-21 level for Ireland.

Alan Sheehan has also coached at clubs including Southampton, Luton and Northampton.

In its defence the State’s lawyers argued that Mr Sheehan was arrested after two others in his company had been observed by gardaí piggybacking in the middle of the street and were causing a hazard to traffic.

The State also claimed that during the incident Mr Sheehan had acted aggressively towards the gardaí, and that he was pepper sprayed after another person had assaulted one of the gardaí, and matters had got out of hand. 

It was claimed that Mr Sheehan told the gardaí dealing with the matter that “Don’t you know who I am,” and “you better have a good solicitor.”

Its response to the public order incident was reasonable and proportionate, the defendants submitted.

The defendants also said that Mr Sheehan had admitted after his arrest that he had consumed five or six pints of beer that night.

Mr Sheehan rejected all of the allegations and said that he had only consumed one pint of beer shandy and had only been in the pub for a relatively short period on the night in question. 

The case, which ran for several days was heard before a civil jury of five women and seven men presided over by Mr Justice Alexander Owens.

The jury after deliberating for just over an hour on Wednesday afternoon, found that the gardaí had used excessive and unreasonable force in its dealing with Mr Sheehan.

It also found that he had been assaulted both in the back of the Garda car, and in the yard of Athlone Garda barracks following his arrest.

Mr Sheehan was entitled to damages the jury further found.

He was also awarded his legal costs against the state by the judge.

Mr Justice Owens thanked the jury for its service and exempted them from having to do any further jury duty for 10 years.

The judge placed a stay on the order in the event of an appeal to the Court of Appeal if €75,000 is immediately paid by the defendants to Mr Sheehan.

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