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Woman who dropped trousers at prison sues State

The woman says she felt humiliated after the incident – but prison officers say she was never asked to remove her trousers.

Image: Shutterstock/Volodymyr Baleha

A WOMAN WHO dropped her trousers and underwear while going through a security check at Castlerea Prison has brought a damages action against the State.

Nataliya Matviyenko claims she was told to take off her jeans, because they contained what were described as decorative metal buttons or studs, by a prison officer before going through a metal detector while visiting her husband at the Roscommon prison.

Arising out of the incident which occurred on 6 May 2009 she has sued the Governor of Castlerea Prison, the Irish Prison Service and the Minister for Justice seeking damages for alleged negligence and breach of duty. She further seeks declarations her constitutional rights were breached.

In proceedings before Mr Justice Paul Gilligan, Ms Matviyenko, a Russian speaking Ukrainian who is now a naturalised Irish citizen, told the High Court she felt “humiliated” “embarrassed” and felt like “someone had poured a bucket of dirt over my head,” as a result of the incident.

The claims are denied. In its defence the state parties say she he was never asked to remove her trousers while going through the prison’s screening process, and she was treated appropriately and professionally by the prison officers.

How it happened

In her action Ms Matviyenko, a mother of two children, with an address at Leas na Coille, Ballybane, Galway claims she went to the prison to visit her now-husband who was in 2009 serving a prison sentence for drink driving.

She had to give him a legal document. She had to pass through a security process, which was similar to going through security at an airport. She said she placed some outer garments items in a tray, as instructed, which were to pass through an x-ray machine. Before she went through a metal detector she showed the prison officer metal studs or buttons on the jeans, which were irremovable.

She said the officer told her to take them off. She believed this meant take off her trousers and she complied. She dropped her trousers as far as her knees, which also accidentally pulled down her underwear, leaving her exposed for a short period.

She claims the prison officer then shouted “what are you doing” and “are you crazy”. She immediately pulled up her clothing.

She said she was left feeling humiliated by her experience as there were others present. She claims she was not allowed visit her husband that day. and a prison officer told her that “we can’t have you doing a striptease.”

castlerea prison Castlerea Prison (Pic: IrishPrisons.ie)

Her counsel Declan McGovern told the court she was left humiliated as result of what happened. Following the incident she was unable to sleep properly, suffered flashbacks, and her family life had suffered.

The other side

The claims are denied. The officer who she alleges told her to remove the jeans, Prison Officer Ciaran Croghan, said in evidence she was never asked to remove her trousers.

In reply to counsel for the state Conor Power SC, Officer Croghan said he told her as she was going through the security screening process to place her outer garments, including a belt, jacket and shoes on a tray to be scanned by an x-ray machine.

He said she told him what was required of her was “stupid” and “she should not have to do this.” He said that the told her this was standard procedure and “she was not being singled out.” He said she pointed out she had metal studs or buttons on her jeans that might set off the metal detector.

He said he told her that was not a problem. He said that just after he asked to remove her shoes before going through the metal detector she dropped her trousers. He said he was “shocked” by her action, and immediately called his superior officer. He said he informed his superior what happened.

Officer Croghan did not know why she dropped her trousers. He said when his superior, after arriving in the screening area, asked her why she dropped her trousers. He said she replied she was “sorry.”

Under cross examination from Mr McGovern he denied that he or other prison officers laughed at her, or that he had ever asked her to remove her trousers.

The case continues.

About the author:

Aodhan O Faolain

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