Reported in this month’s Irish Health and Safety Review is the recent High Court case concerning a retired detective Garda who was awarded €85,000 after claiming that he was bullied, harassed and denied payment of expense claims. Justice Cross delivered his judgement on 4th December 2012 in the case of Browne v Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Others which is available to view in full at www.courts.ie.
In the first part of our blog, we look at the first six complaints (out of the twelve submitted) where the retired Garda (the plaintiff) alleged he was subjected to bullying and harassment. In the second part of our blog we will look at the remaining six complaints and the case-law identified in the judgment of Justice Cross.
The plaintiff in this case claimed damages for personal injuries, loss and damage as a result of the alleged negligence, breach of contract, conspiracy and breach of duty on the part of the defendants whom he alleged permitted him to be subjected to a campaign of bullying and harassment by his superiors and failing to take proper steps to investigate his complaints.
The plaintiff submitted twelve complaints as part of his bullying complaints and we will look at the first six complaints here:
- The Canal Murders
The plaintiff was seconded to assist in a murder investigation in Naas known as the “Canal Murders” and whilst on duty the plaintiff made claims for payment of subsistence allowance in accordance with An Garda Siochana finance code. Claims for the months of January and February 2000 were disallowed. The court noted that although the plaintiff would have been entitled to the full claim, the court did not accept that the incident of itself amounted to bullying and harassment.
2. Theft of an Unmarked Garda Vehicle from Kilmainham Station
Here the plaintiff noted that he was required to travel to Naas and collect an unmarked vehicle and return it to Dublin. The plaintiff did not return the vehicle as he stated there would not have been a garda to sign it in at night time and that the car park was full at Kilmainham Garda Station. On the night in question the car was stolen from outside the station. Following the criminal conviction of the thief the plaintiff’s permission to drive the vehicle was revoked. The court noted that the removal of the plaintiff’s permission to drive did not of itself amount to bullying or harassment or any legal wrong. The Defendant’s denied that the revocation of the permission to drive was a punishment and the court noted that “the initial revocation was indeed a punishment but does not come to the conclusion that this punishment has been established as being bullying and harassment”. The Court did note that the reasons offered by the defence witnesses were “unreasonably excessive and without justification and amounted to an irregular attempt by the defendants to control the plaintiff”. The court further noted that the “continuing deprivation of the plaintiff’s use of the car by the defendants after the period of one year up to 2009 was an attempt by the defendants to control and punish the plaintiff…….and that it was entirely unfair and an example of bullying and harassment by the defendants…….”
3. The Rowntree Site
The plaintiff loved adjacent to the former factories of Nestle Rowntree in Kilmainham and there was local opposition to the development and the plaintiff attended a protest meeting. The plaintiff claimed that he was approached while at or after the meeting by a superior who claimed undesirable characters were taking control of the meeting. On the day before a proposed further meeting a copy of a leaflet advising of the protest was passed under the door of an Inspector at Kilmainham Garda Station and the leaflet had a copy of the plaintiff’s signature, rank, number and station attached to the end. The Defendant’s accepted that the plaintiff’s signature was “lifted” from a previous letter that the plaintiff had written. The court noted “….there was clearly an attempt by some relatively senior members of An Garda Siochana who had a copy of the letter dated 20th September to implicate the plaintiff with a political protest being organised or orchestrated by extremists or subversives………..the court is also of the view that this is defamatory to the plaintiff”. The court also noted that “the publication of the leaflet……..was also part of a bullying and harassment campaign against the plaintiff seeking to undermine him in his position as a Detective Garda”.
4. The Failure to Attend the Trial in April
Here the plaintiff was advised by his superintendent that a sworn inquiry was to be held over his failure to attend a previous court case. The plaintiff stated that he had not received any notification of the court case and his explanation was supported by another Detective sergeant. The court noted however that it was not of the view that “the threat that disciplinary proceedings would be undertaken was unreasonable or indeed a matter of bullying and harassment”.
5. The Criminal Investigation into Alleged Fraudulent Claims for Alleged Overtime
In this claim it was alleged that the plaintiff had submitted a fraudulent claim which led to a criminal investigation by an inspector. The court was not satisfied as to why a criminal investigation for fraud was initiated and noted that “……as a matter of probability this investigation or threat of same was prompted by animus against the plaintiff by his superiors and part of the campaign to control him. The court holds this also was an example of bullying and harassment”.
6. The Altercation at the Locker
Here the plaintiff claimed that he was asked by a retired Detective Sergeant to assist his son to remove personal items from his locker. The station sergeant was concerned that the plaintiff and the sergeants son were acting in contravention of the Garda Regulations by removing official property and files from the station. An altercation arose which became heated and a complaint was made against the plaintiff which led to an investigation under An Garda Siochana Disciplinary Code. Ultimately the conviction was overturned on appeal. The plaintiff submitted that the disciplinary proceedings against him were inappropriate and excessive however the court noted that although there was an “altercation and heated exchanges ensued……the court is not of the view that this incident is an example of bullying and harassment”. The court further noted that “it was not unreasonable that a formal enquiry under an Garda Siochana Disciplinary Regulations was held”.
In tomorrow’s blog update we will revisit this interesting judgement and look at the remaining six areas of complaint.
As always thought comments or questions welcomed!