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Donegal sergeant tells Tribunal that legal letter written about her was 'disturbing'

Sergeant Bridget McGowan was giving evidence concerning Garda Keith Harrison at the Charleton Tribunal today.

tribunal 776_90524581 Sergeant Bridget McGowan, arriving at the Disclosures Tribunal at Dublin Castle today Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Updated at 7.30pm

A GARDA SERGEANT has told the Charleton Tribunal that she found it “disturbing and upsetting” when a letter was sent to Minister for Children Katherine Zappone claiming she had threatened “repercussions” if the partner of a garda whistleblower failed to make a statement.

Sergeant Brigid McGowan said the letter, sent by solicitors for Garda Keith Harrison and his partner Marisa Simms, stated that “during her eight-hour interview, she [Simms] was coerced into making a statement with a threat that if she didn’t, there may be repercussions for her and her children”.

Sergeant McGowan said the statement could have been forwarded from the Minister to the Department of Justice and from there, to the Garda Commissioner and her superiors.

“I just found that very upsetting,” Sergeant McGowan said.

Sergeant McGowan said gardaí were obliged to notify the HSE once they received the statement, which contained an account of an incident where Garda Harrison allegedly threatened Simms in front of her children.

Paul Anthony McDermott SC representing Tusla said the agency was not criticising the amount of information the child and family agency were given on the by gardaí, and accepted that gardaí had to “make a judgement call”. He said Tusla regarded it as being an appropriate referral, and dealt with it as such.

Mark Harty SC, representing Garda Harrison, said it was never the case that a barring order had been granted against his client, as had been alleged in an anonymous letter sent to the HSE in February 2012.

Hugh Hartnett, on behalf of Simms, said it was not the case that Garda Harrison banged his fist on a car dashboard, but rather that he threw his keys against it.

He said Simms did not say that Garda Harrison had pulled her out of bed, but instead that he had pulled a duvet cover off her.

He also said that Simms was never “put out of the house”, but instead referred to leaving the house after domestic disputes.

Hartnett also said that Garda Harrison had said to Simms “You’re going to get burnt if you don’t make up your mind where your loyalties lie,” rather than threatening to burn her or bury her.

Sergeant McGowan said she had recorded the words Simms dictated in her statement.

tribunal 611_90524587 Pictured are Garda Keith Harrison with his partner Marissa Simms arriving arriving at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Source: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

Earlier today, McGowan said that taking a victim statement was “not an exact science”, when asked about the statement made by Simms.

The sergeant disagreed with counsel for Simms, Hugh Hartnett SC, who put it to her that she and a garda inspector had been “suggesting things, that you were saying things to her during this eight-hour interview”.

McGowan insisted that the words in Simms’ statement were the words of the alleged victim, and that in the course of taking a statement, questions could be asked to clarify names, dates or places.

Sergeant McGowan said she first learned about Garda Keith Harrison on 9 February 2013, when she was contacted by Una Coll from the HSE about an anonymous letter mentioning Garda Harrison, and expressing concerns about child welfare.

“I knew he was a guard and I knew he was stationed in Donegal. I hadn’t heard anything about him before 2012,” McGowan said.

After meeting with Coll, Sergeant McGowan forwarded a report to Eugene McGovern, the superintendent in charge of the Milford district in Co Donegal.

The sergeant said she checked the Pulse system to find out the address of Simms and found that Harrison had also checked her details numerous times.

In March 2013 Sergeant McGowan met again with the HSE, who informed her “that the matter is now closed to them as there are no child welfare concerns in this case”.

Concerns

In October 2013, Sergeant McGowan learned about concerns regarding Garda Harrison from the mother and sister of Marisa Simms, Rita McDermott and Paula McDermott.

On 6 October McGowan and Inspector Goretti Sheridan took a statement from Marisa Simms in Letterkenny Garda Station.

tribunal 625_90524585 Keith Harrison and Marisa Simms, arriving at Dublin Castle earlier today Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Simms was brought to an upstairs room to give her statement, allowing greater privacy.

“She spoke about things and as she spoke I began to take notes on the back of a piece of paper,” McGowan said.

The statement, it took a while, but with any victim of crime you want to make sure they are comfortable in their surroundings, you deal with them as best you can.
I have to say, based on what she told me, I felt for her.

In the statement, Simms alleged that Keith Harrison had threatened to “bury” herself and her sister during an argument because he had not been invited to a wedding, and that he had said “I am going to burn you”.

McGowan denied having told Simms to “think of her children”, and said she was shocked to learn that Simms claimed this had occurred.

Sergeant McGowan said that when Simms completed her statement: “I felt at the end she was a relieved woman, almost as if she had unburdened herself.”

She said that, because there were child welfare issues, gardaí were obliged to notify the HSE.

The HSE notification form noted “emotional abuse” and gave details that a child was “present during argument between mother and partner”. McGowan said she had no control over who might see the form in the HSE, so she did not want to put too much detail in the notification form.

Argument

On 21 October 2013, a strategy meeting was arranged with the HSE, at which McGowan said she disclosed details of the argument between Garda Harrison and Simms.

Tribunal barrister Kathleen Leader said it appeared the HSE would disagree about how much detail they were given at this meeting.

“Definitively during the course of that meeting I told them about the threats that had been made while the children were present,” Sergeant McGowan said.

I specifically remember the meeting. I know I told them about the threats to burn because that was the purpose of the meeting, that the serious threats were there.

Simms withdrew her statement of complaint in January 2014, with McGowan duly notifying the HSE of same.

On 27 February, the HSE advised gardaí that, following an initial assessment, as there were no ongoing child welfare or protection issues the case would be closed.

Comments are closed for legal reasons

Read: Tribunal hears whistleblower’s partner withdrew statement about his behaviour

Read: Tribunal witness ‘doesn’t remember’ saying garda whistleblower threatened to burn his partner

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Gerard Cunningham

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