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Contradictions, 'coercions' and a private life made public: Keith Harrison's partner at the Tribunal

Marisa Simms gave evidence to the Disclosures Tribunal for over five hours yesterday.

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I’ve listened to my life being torn apart in here for the last week and a half.

BY HER OWN admission, 2013 was not a good time in the life of Marisa Simms and her partner, Garda Keith Harrison.

Harrison’s infidelity, his court case over a driving offence, Simms suffering a miscarriage in June of that year and tension with her family over their disapproval of Harrison all took its toll on their relationship.

tribunal 979_90524715 Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Since last Monday, the Disclosures Tribunal has been dissecting the very personal stories behind the relationships of Harrison and Simms.

Harrison was included in the terms of reference for the Tribunal, which also deals with the alleged smear campaign against Maurice McCabe, because he claims similar intervention from senior garda management caused child protection services to become involved in his family’s lives.

So far, the Tribunal has heard evidence from a variety of people, including gardaí stationed in Donegal and members of Simms’ family.

Yesterday, however, Simms’ backtracked on a number of claims that she and Harrison had already made regarding the conduct of gardaí and Tusla in Donegal, saying that she had absolutely no issue with Tusla.

The subsequent involvement of child protection services in the lives of Harrison and Simms primarily hinges on a statement given by Simms to Inspector Goretti Sheridan and Sergeant Brigid McGowan in October.

It is a story that involves contradictory accounts, an alleged coerced statement and, bizarrely, curry chips.

Here’s what happened.

Marisa Simms

She and Garda Harrison were among the first to arrive at a rainy Dublin Castle yesterday, a full 40 minutes before proceedings got under way.

As they are represented by different counsel they filed into the room and immediately took up their seats some two rows apart. She gave evidence for over five hours to the Tribunal.

When she began giving evidence, she detailed how she’d first met Keith when the pair were at NUI Galway in around 1998. They both married other people, but later became reacquainted in 2010, and began a relationship.

She had two children from her marriage to Andrew Simms, and now also has a child with Harrison.

She told the Tribunal that Harrison is a supportive figure in her life but that hadn’t always been the case.

“In 2013, it was not a happy time,” she said.

One argument between the pair in September 2013 caused Simms to leave the house. A week later she gave a statement to Inspector Sheridan in Letterkenny Garda Station.

It is the accounts given of this event, and the events leading up to her statement, by gardaí and her own family members that Simms disagreed with at the Tribunal yesterday.

Statement

Previously, the Tribunal had heard evidence from Inspector Sheridan who, over the course of an eight-hour interview on 6 October 2013, collected a 28-page statement from Simms detailing her relationship with Harrison.

The statement was read out in full at the Tribunal on Friday.

It details the relationship between Harrison and Simms and came just a week after the pair had an argument which resulted in Simms leaving Harrison.

The statement says that Harrison had “put [her] out of the house on three occasions”.

Giving evidence to the Tribunal, Sheridan had said that she had “absolutely no doubt at all” that Simms had said that.

25/9/2017. Disclosures Tribunals Inspector Goretti Sheridan Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

Here is more from that statement:

He seemed to be in good enough form and asked me to bring home curry chips, which I did. I arrived home sometime after 9pm and gave him the chips. His mood totally changed and as I was getting the girls ready for bed, he started at me. He said: ‘Don’t think a curry chip will make up for me being gone all evening.’ He started on in front of the children and I felt completely drained and just wanted him to stop.
He kept making comments and ranting on about my sister saying ‘who does she think she is? I will take her down a peg or two’, and also said ‘I am going to bury her and you’. He kept repeating this and I told him to stop but it was as if he went into a total rant. He then said: ‘I am going to burn you.’
He prevented me from going back in by physically grabbing my wrist. I was really frightened of him at this stage as he was in such a rage, it was as if he was not in control of himself and he was crazy.

The statement was, however, retracted by Simms in January 2014. A short time later, the family were visited by social workers who attended their home.

Simms told the Tribunal yesterday that she disagreed with the contents of the statement in a number of instances and said, “I never said that”.

Simms’ version

Contrary to evidence given by Inspector Sheridan and members of her own family, Simms insisted that she did not go to the garda station with the intent to give a statement about Garda Harrison.

“I never wanted any garda intervention in my life,” she said. “Inspector Sheridan alluded that I contacted her. By the time I contacted Sheridan I had three missed calls from her. That’s why I returned her call.”

She claimed that it was intimated to her that she should come in “for a chat” after Simms’ sister gave a statement to the gardaí about the night Harrison allegedly said he would “burn her”.

In a letter sent to Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, solicitors for Harrison and Simms said that “during the eight-hour interview, [Simms] was coerced into making a statement with a threat that if she didn’t, there may be repercussions for her and her children”.

Although Simms reiterated this again today, she also acknowledged that a great deal of the statement she gave to Sheridan and her colleague Sergeant Brigid McGowan was in fact true but that some of the wording used in the statement were not things that she said or would ever say.

“There were things in that statement I’d never divulge to anyone,” she said. “It was like a question-and-answer session.”

She said that sections describing Harrison as “obsessive” were not things that she said. Simms also refuted saying that she had ever been “kicked out” of her home.

“To suggest that is ludicrous,” she said. “The phrase, ‘I feel totally harassed’. I don’t remember saying that.”

Simms did not, however, say that she was suggesting that the gardaí had “made it up” in regards to what she says are inconsistencies in the statement.

“I may have nodded in agreement to their questions, but I’d never voluntarily say that,” she said.

Simms did detail aspects of the relationship at the Tribunal yesterday that were mirrored in the statement.

She said she felt angry at his infidelity with a number of women. She said her family took a poor view of Harrison for his behaviour and that, after her sister’s hen party, he contacted the hotel and inquired as to how to acquire footage of her there.

Simms also told the Tribunal that she did not feel threatened by Harrison despite him referencing “burying” and “burning” during their argument. She also claimed that the statement is incorrect and Harrison never told her he’d burn her.

Under cross-examination, she refused to withdraw her claim that the statement was coerced and said she felt “duped”, despite admitting that much of what she said was true and that she had gone to the station of her own accord.

Text messages

It was put to Simms that the content of her text messages contradict her admission that she felt duped into giving the statement and that she didn’t feel threatened by Harrison.

About an hour after she left Letterkenny Garda Station after giving her statement to Inspector Sheridan, she sent her a message saying: “Hi just here now thanks for everything.”

At the Tribunal, she denied assertions that she was saying thanks because Sheridan had listened to her story and taken her statement.

Simms said: “Inspector Sheridan asked me to let her know that I was home now. At that stage, I hadn’t realised I had been duped… I was just thanking her for inquiring I got home okay.”

Sheridan, meanwhile, already told the Tribunal that she felt the message of thanks was because Simms had “unburdened” her situation to her.

The Tribunal also heard about messages sent by Simms while she was at the garda station to her now-ex husband Andrew and her sister Paula. In both she said: “am okay, still at station.”

Furthermore, between the incident that caused her to leave the house and the following week, phone records show a bombardment of texts and calls made by Harrison to Simms.

Here is a snippet detailed by the Tribunal, all in the space of roughly a day or so:

‘Why are you doing this to me?’ ‘I love you and the children.’ ‘you are finishing with me?’ ‘Marisa are you coming home? Please x.’ ‘Please tell me what’s going on, it’s torture going on like this.’ ‘do you even care how I am, if I am okay?’ ‘do you realise how much this is hurting.’

Marisa’s responses were sporadic.

Here’s one: “You threatened to burn me, a threat you seem to be ignoring, You think because you tell me you love me, I’ll come running. You horrible person, leave me alone, we are done.”

Despite numerous text messages to this effect, Simms told the Tribunal that she never thought Keith had threatened her.

She said: “If I thought it was a serious threat why would I have gone to the house alone… By time of the statement, I knew it wasn’t a genuine threat.

I was in a very bad place at that time. I may have been confused. This was a really difficult time for both of us.

Furthermore, Simms gave the gardaí her mobile phone just a few days after the statement.

She told the Tribunal she gave it over because she was asked to, and refuted the claim that it was because the messages inside would be used to corroborate a case against Harrison.

Counsel for the Tribunal said that it “may be a logical step to assume that giving the phone was related to comments about Harrison”.

Simms replied: “Yeah that may be true. It may be… I don’t know what I was thinking at the time.”

Tusla

8704 Disclosures Tribunal_90524104 Harrison with Simms outside Dublin Castle Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

On the back of Simms’ statement to the gardaí, child protection services made inquiries to visit the family in February 2014.

Simms claims that, when withdrawing her statement that January, Sheridan told her a story of a couple in a similar situation where social services were now involved in their lives.

“I was sick when she relayed this to me,” Simms said.

It absolutely 100% happened. I will never forget what she said to me that day.

For her part, Inspector Sheridan denied saying this when giving evidence to the Tribunal.

Simms said that she was shocked to receive a HSE/Tusla letter a short time after to discuss certain child protection concerns that had been flagged with the relevant agencies.

In her initial statement to the Tribunal, she described it as an “ultimate invasion of family life”.

Giving evidence to the Tribunal, however, Simms took a different view.

I have absolutely no issue with Tusla. They received a referral.

It had been the case that Harrison and Simms alleged that Tusla got involved with the family at the behest of the gardaí.

At this moment yesterday, Mr Justice Peter Charleton interjected adding that the involvement at gardaí at this point was a “an important link to this whole chain”.

“Are you saying I should reach that conclusion that you did [about garda involvement]. And with what evidence?” the judge said.

Simms replied: “I didn’t feel it was a coincidence between me withdrawing my statement and then the involvement of these services.

I don’t know if it’s suspicious. That’s why we’re here. I’m not implying anything. I don’t know anything about these people. I don’t think they abused their powers.

After a visit from social worker Donna McTeague to the home of Simms and Harrison, she determined that the children were “not at risk of ongoing significant harm”, and the case was formally closed.

Harrison’s take

The Terms of Reference for the Tribunal state its function in this instance is “to investigate contacts between members of An Garda Síochána and Tusla in relation to Garda Keith Harrison”. Under these terms, Simms is no longer alleging that Tusla became involved in Harrison’s life at the behest of the gardaí.

Having told her very personal story in such a public setting, it will soon be the turn of her partner to give his side.

From the outset, Harrison has been insistent that there was an “abuse of power” from senior garda management to involve Tusla in his family’s life.

After his counsel quizzes Marisa Simms this morning, the Tribunal will get to hear his story from the man himself, when he gives evidence to Justice Peter Charleton.

Comments have been closed for legal reasons

Read: Donegal sergeant tells Tribunal that legal letter written about her was ‘disturbing’

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

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Sean Murray

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