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Tribunal hears details of text messages between Garda Keith Harrison and his partner Marisa Simms

Simms was on the witness stand at the tribunal for the first time today.

Garda Keith Harrison with his partner Marissa Simms arriving today
Garda Keith Harrison with his partner Marissa Simms arriving today
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Updated 6.24pm

THE PARTNER OF a garda whistleblower says she accepts there is no basis for believing gardaí manipulated Tusla into investigating her family and children, the Charleton Tribunal has heard.

Marisa Simms told the tribunal she had previously believed there was an abuse of authority based on the fact that there was a “coincidence” in which she was contacted by Tusla shortly after she withdrew a statement making complaints against her partner, Garda Keith Harrison, in January 2014.

“I have no issue with Tusla or the HSE,” Simms said today, however.

“I suppose I was suspicious. I had retracted my statement, and a week and a half later I get a letter.
I have absolutely no issue with Tusla, they had received a referral. The people we were dealing with were professional, they were courteous.

Barrister Paul Anthony McDermott SC, representing Tusla, said it was his understanding that the reason for the current module was to examine allegations against his client, “and it appears it is no longer being pursued”.

Simms said that when she was withdrawing her complaint, Inspector Goretti Sheridan told her a story about a couple in Letterkenny who had a row, and as a result social services were involved in their lives, and their children were “taken away”.

As a mother I will never forget what she said to me. I felt sick to my stomach.

Simms also said that Sergeant Brigid McGowan told her to “think of her children”.

Simms said that when withdrawing her statement on 11 January 2014, she affirmed that everything in it was true because Inspector Goretti “was after making a threat to me about social services” and she wanted to protect her children.

She was asked by Mícheál P O’Higgins SC, on behalf of the garda commissioner, if it was “entirely reasonable for the guards to notify the HSE and to take seriously what you had told them in your statement”.

“If you were just reading all the information, without the context around it, they had to take it seriously, yes,” Simms said.

tribunal 627_90524584 Garda Keith Harrison Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Barrister Desmond Dockery BL, representing the AGSI, Inspector Sheridan and Sergeant McGowan, said it was Sergeant McGowan’s position that she never told Simms to “think of her children”, and that Inspector Sheridan never told a story about a local couple and social services. Simms maintained she had been told these things.

Dockery said his clients had to put up with very damaging allegations and a Gsoc inquiry following a 2016 complaint by Simms.

Cathal Ó Braonáin BL, representing Chief Superintendent Terry McGinn, said his client had never instructed officers that she wanted Simms interviewed at a particular time or a statement taken from her.

Simms said she accepted this, and “was only relaying what I was told”.

Original statement

Earlier, Simms said she felt she had no choice but to go to Letterkenny garda station when she was contacted by a garda inspector in October 2013.

Simms told the tribunal that Inspector Goretti Sheridan initiated contact with her and asked her “to come in for a chat”. She said the inspector told her “the chief [superintendent] wants an exact time”, so she agreed to call to the station at 3pm on 6 October 2013.

Simms said that prior to this, Gweedore gardaí had called to her house, and she did not want this to happen again.

“To say I went in voluntarily is not correct,” Simms said today. She said that initially there was a conversation in the station with Inspector Sheridan and Sergeant Brigid McGowan “trying to put me at ease”, and then Sergeant McGowan said:

We’ll put this down now, while it’s fresh in your head.

Private details

Simms also said that Sergeant McGowan told her, “You need to think of your children”, adding she was not sure what was meant by this but she remembers feeling afraid.

She said that many of the things in the garda statement were not her words, and that it contained “private details” and things she would never divulge to anyone.

She said that she was tired, and might have nodded in agreement to questions put to her, which were then written down, but they were not her own words.

“At one stage I remember putting my head in my hands saying I didn’t know what they wanted me to say next,” Simms said.

She said that the garda officers suggested she could come back and continue the next day, but she did not want to see them again.

She said she had not called Garda Harrison “obsessive”, and the statement was not read over to her when it was completed.

Small things were taken and magnified into something that never was.

She gave an example from the statement in which a large volume of text messages were described as “very persistent and bordering on obsessive”.

“In the course of our relationship, we were in contact by text. That was normal and made into something that wasn’t,” Simms told the tribunal.

In your view was it obsessive – that’s the question that was put to me. In my view, it wasn’t obsessive. That was the question that was put to me and that’s what was recorded.

She said she it was “absolutely ludicrous” to say she was “put out of our home” – but had left voluntarily. She said she had asked her mother to collect her after an argument with Garda Harrison.

She said it was not her words that Garda Harrison was undermining her confidence or “became abusive and aggressive” during an argument because he was not invited to her sister Paula’s wedding.

“Garda Harrison did say in relation to my sister, ‘I am going to bury her’, but it was in relation to the wedding, that he was going to get her back. It was never a physical threat that he was going to bury her,” Simms said.

He did say I was going to get burnt, but he meant by my family. I was going to get burnt if I was trying to please everyone, getting pulled in every direction. It never meant that he was going to incinerate or burn anyone. I never picked it up like that.”

Simms also said Garda Harrison never grabbed her by the wrists, as recorded in the statement.

Exhausted

She said she had one toilet break while in Letterkenny garda station, and it was an “escorted break”. She said Inspector Sheridan came into the bathroom with her, and waited outside the toilet door.

tribunal 776_90524581 Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Simms said she thought the statement would only go to chief Superintendent Terry McGinn, and it was not until she got a phone call from Gsoc case officer George O’Doherty two days later that she realised this was not the case.

She said she felt “duped” after speaking with O’Doherty.

Tribunal barrister, Kathleen Leader BL, put it to the witness that after she left the garda station, she sent a text to Inspector Sheridan saying, “Hi, just here now. Thanks for everything, Marisa”, which could suggest she had been happy to make a statement.

Simms said this was because Sheridan had asked her to text when she got home safe as she was exhausted and that she had not been happy to provide a statement.

“At that stage, I took these ladies at face value that the information that was extracted from me was only for the chief’s eyes,” Simms said.

Text messages

The following day, Simms called to the garda station and handed over her mobile phone. Simms said she wasn’t sure what to do, that she had been asked for her phone and gave it to gardaí, but hadn’t felt pressure to do so.

Internet searches on her phone showed Simms had looked up citizen’s information in relation to barring, safety and protection orders, and three stories about men accused of harassing women, two involving police officers.

Simms said the word “harassment” was on her mind because it had been said to her by Inspector Sheridan and Sergeant McGowan, and she may have googled it.

Leader went through texts on the phone from 29 September 2013, a week before Simms made her garda statement, in which she texted Garda Harrison saying:

U r so full of shit, u make me sick. Love, you don’t know the meaning of the word. You have threatened me for the last time.

On the following day, Simms send a text which read: “Nothing to talk about Keith, you threatened to burn me, bury me and Paula. Get my kids taken from me. What type of person would do that. I am done. Completely.”

Leader said that her sister had convinced her that this was a serious threat, but she did not believe it was so anymore.

“I knew it was never a genuine threat. What he said exactly was if I didn’t stop trying to please everyone I would get burnt,” Simms said.

Leader said gardaí had not obtained Simms’ phone until two days after they took her statement, and could not have known at that point what the texts messages would say.

Withdrawing statement

Simms said it was a difficult time in their relationship, but if she was genuinely threatened she would not have had anything to do with Garda Harrison.

She said that around Halloween in 2013, Garda Harrison began counselling and she saw a change in his behaviour.

Leader said that a cynical person might say that because her relationship with Garda Harrison stabilised, she wouldn’t want him to have difficulty in his job and had withdrawn her complaints.

“Garda Harrison has been portrayed as an absolute monster, and its horrendous all the stuff I’ve had to sit here and listen to,” Simms said. “It’s not true.”

The tribunal continues.

Comments are closed for legal reasons

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

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

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Gerard Cunningham

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