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Not Guilty

'I was hospitalised twice': Jobstown teen describes stress of being convicted over protest

Jason Lester said the experience hasn’t put him off protesting – and he’s not ruling out a career in politics.

A YOUNG MAN who today had his conviction for false imprisonment overturned has described the impact the experience has had on his life over the last three-and-a-half years.

Jason Lester from Brookview Close in Tallaght was just 15 when he took part in the now infamous Jobstown protest in November 2014.

He was later arrested and charged, and last year became the only person to be found guilty of false imprisonment of then Tánaiste Joan Burton and her advisor Karen O’Connell.

Speaking to following his appeal victory today, the 18-year-old described the dawn raid by gardaí to arrest him when he was just 15 as “a terrifying experience”.

Anti-water charge protest Jason Lester (left) and fellow protestor Sandra Fay at a press conference in February 2015. Niall Carson / PA Niall Carson / PA / PA

Lester had a non-jury  trial at the Children’s Court in Dublin last year. The then 17-year-old had denied falsely imprisoning Burton and O’Connell for three hours in cars at the protest.

It was extremely stressful. I was hospitalised twice due to stress when it was going on.
It was a constant worry, tiredness, sickness and when I went to hospital they said it was stress, it was due to the case. When the trial was going on in the Children’s Court I was constantly getting fluids put in.
The day we got the verdict, I was only out of hospital the day before.

The teen was found guilty and faced a possible two-year sentence, but on 21 October last year Judge John King imposed a conditional discharge, providing Lester did not re-offend in the following nine months.

“I was shocked initially [at being found guilty], upset, angry as well that the justice system would do something like that to somebody,” he said. “We knew and the legal team knew I did nothing wrong, but they weren’t able to question the DPP as much in the Children’s Court as they were in the adult court.”

‘They stood by me’

In October this year, charges against ten of the 11 Jobstown water charge protesters were formally dropped at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. In June, six men, including Solidarity TD Paul Murphy, were found not guilty by a jury of falsely imprisoning the politician and her advisor following a nine-week trial.

Charges against a seventh man were dropped halfway through that trial.

Lester said it was “really upsetting” for him to have been convicted and then to see other protesters cleared in an adult trial that was based on the same evidence.

4/12/2017 Jobstown Protesters Court Cases Lester outside the Central Criminal Courts with his mother Sandra earlier today. Leah Farrell / Leah Farrell / /

“It was really hard on my family, really hard for them to cope with the whole thing, but they stood by me all the way through and I’m really grateful for that. I was doing my Leaving Cert and it was hard for me to focus on that with all this going on,” he said.

Everyone knew as well in school, it’s hard everyone knowing your business.

Although the last three-and-a-half years have taken their toll on the young man and his family, he said it has not discouraged him from protesting or from engaging in politics.

“I was always involved in politics, it has always been an interest of mine, be it local, national or European. Things like the homelessness crisis in the country, or water charges or the health crisis have always been of interest for me.

“What’s happened certainly wouldn’t put me off – if there was a protest tomorrow I’d definitely attend. And politics is an area I have great interest in, who knows what the future can hold?”

When asked if he would consider running in the next election, he replied: “You never know what’s going to happen – I wouldn’t rule it out.”

“I don’t think anyone that age should be put through that, I wouldn’t like to see that happen to anyone else again so I’ll be campaigning now for a public inquiry into that day.”

Read: Jobstown teen cleared of false imprisonment of Joan Burton on appeal>

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