A father and son who allege they were "severely beaten" by gardaí in March of this year in Donegal are seeking to take a civil action against the gardaí involved. One of the men, Damien Meehan of Derry, had 32 staples inserted in head wounds which, he claims, were inflicted after he was arrested and his hands cuffed behind his back.
His father, John Meehan, was also arrested and, he claims, suffered serious bruising to his head and arms. Assault and public order charges brought by the Garda against the Meehans were dismissed at Buncrana District Court on 22 November.
The gardaí claimed Damien Meehan attacked three gardaí as he was being arrested and this required them to use batons to protect the gardaí and to secure the arrest.
One of the more controversial gardaí associated with the Morris Tribunal, Sgt Michael Murray, was in charge of the gardaí who arrested Damien and John Meehan. The Morris Tribunal Report said of Sgt Murray: "[he was] anxious to present himself to the Tribunal as both a truthful witness and as a member of An Garda Síochána who carried out his duties in a conscientious manner. The Tribunal is satisfied that he was neither."
Murray continued to serve as a member of An Garda Síochána subsequent to this finding against him. Murray was not himself involved in the alleged assault on the Meehans in the incident reported here.
Damien Meehan had been involved in a brief altercation in the 19th Hole bar at the border village of Bridgend on the night of 28 March 2005. Gardaí were called, but the row ended before the gardaí arrived.
When the gardaí arrived at the scene, they called Damien Meehan outside, arrested him, handcuffed him behind his back and put him into a Garda van. Damien Meehan's father, John Meehan protested and, according to an official complaint to the Garda by a sister of Damien Meehan, Karen Meehan, Murray allegedly "told my father to shut his mouth and he took a baton out and put it to his face and told him he would be arrested too."
John Meehan was then arrested and brought towards the van. "When the two doors [of the van] opened, my brother Damien stood up as the gardaí were putting Daddy in," Karen Meehan said.
"A Garda grabbed Damien by the scruff and two gardaí hit him with their batons. My father tried to protect Damien. Next minute I just seen Damien's head getting opened by the batons striking his head."
Another eye-witness, Dermot Wilson, said: "As they open (sic) the back of the van, Damien Meehan was standing there and put his head out and at that, two members of the gardaí had lashed out on Damien with their batons, hitting him on the head several times until his head opened up," said Wilson.
Garda statements say Damien Meehan attacked three gardaí when the van door was opened. Three Garda then used batons. Garda Shaun McLaughlin said: "I decided to draw my official baton and at that I struck Damien Meehan three times on the lower leg."
"Gardaí Mannion, Togher and McLaughlin used their official batons in order to ensure their own safety, and of the safety of other gardaí present," Garda Conor Mulkerrins said.
"The Gardaí were striking at the shin area and at the shoulder area. However, Mr Meehan put his head down when he was charging and he was struck on the head." During the incident Damien Mannion also, allegedly, suffered a broken bone in his finger.
In his statement, Garda Mulkerrins said: "I observed Meehan strike Garda Mannion on the hand with a stick." This seems to conflict with other evidence which stated that at the time Damien Meehan was under arrest and had his hands cuffed behind his back.
None of the other Garda statements mentioned a stick. Garda Mannion's statement said Damien Meehan tried to kick him. "I raised my hand to block the kick," said Mannion. "And he made contact with my left hand. I drew my baton and as the prisoner continued to attack violently I struck him a number of blows with my baton. As he continued to charge at me, trying to get out of the van, kicking and punching, I aimed the blows at his arms and shoulders."
A charge against Damien Meehan of assaulting Garda Mannion was one of the charges dismissed by the District Court, when the two Meehans were tried on assault and public order charges.
Damien Meehan was treated at 3am at Letterkenny General Hospital. According to medical notes, he had suffered "lacerations to scalp and right forehead. Appears confused to place on arrival. Also right thumb pain, same swollen."
Medical staff found no injuries to his legs, contrary to claims by one of the gardaí that he struck Damien Meehan on the legs. When Damien Meehan attended Derry's Altnagelvin Hospital the following day, staff recorded an additional bruise on his nose, but , again, no injuries to the legs.
Within minutes of the arrests, Karen Meehan phoned Derry solicitor William Hasson, who travelled to Buncrana Garda station. "I spoke to a (named) Sergeant and pointed out that I had been advised that Mr Damien Meehan had been severely assaulted by the guards and was in need of medical attention," said Hasson. "I said I wanted to see him and he said he was already receiving medical attention." John and Karen Meehan corroborate this conversation. Hasson then left the Garda station.
John Meehan said: "A short time later (after the solicitor, William Hasson had been assured Damien Meehan was receiving medical attention) I was allowed to see my son and to my amazement saw him lying face down on the cell floor in a pool of blood and there was no doctor with him."
The Garda who was in charge of Buncrana Garda station on the night in question, Garda Carl Campbell, said in a statement that no doctor attended.
"At 00.48 the doctor on call telephoned the station and when I described the prisoner's injuries, he stated he would send an ambulance straight away," said Garda Campbell. This ambulance took both Meehans to Letterkenny hospital.
Hasson said: "I now regret that I accepted that [assurance that Damien Meehan was then receiving medical attention], and if anything had happened to young Meehan, I would have felt responsible." He said he had never been misled to such an extent by the RUC or by the Garda previously.