State settles Garda assault case for €25,000

Four years after the May Day protest 2002, the state has settled the case of Annette Ryan, who told the High Court she was assaulted by gardaí. By Frank Connolly

A four-year ordeal arising from the Reclaim the Streets protest in May 2002 ended in the High Court this week for a former president of the students' union in the National College of Art and Design. The court heard Annette Ryan, 39, was at the protest when she was assaulted by a garda, handcuffed, thrown in a Garda van, taken to Pearse Street garda station and strip-searched.

On Monday 11 July the state settled her action for false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, assault and wrongful arrest after the court heard conflicting video and witness evidence including a bizarre claim by gardaí that there is now a policy to strip-search every person they arrest and detain in custody.

"I was standing on Burgh Quay when a female garda came from behind me and grabbed the beer-can I was holding. I pulled it back and the next thing I knew Garda Donal Corcoran lifted me off my feet and threw me on the ground. Then he knelt on my back. My face was pushed into the ground, I was handcuffed and thrown in the back of a Garda van. There was a man who was bleeding from the head in the van.

"I was taken to Pearse Street station where two female guards wearing laytex gloves told me to take my clothes off. One of them was very aggressive. After I was strip-searched I was put in a cell for an hour and then charged with breaching the peace and disorderly behaviour," Annette Ryan told Village. The charges were subsequently struck out in the summer of 2003 after five district-court appearances by Ryan.

Her first appearance in the High Court ended abruptly after two days last month when her barrister, Michael O'Higgins SC, objected to statements by gardaí being entered into evidence without first being provided to his client.

In their new statements, members of the Garda claimed she had been waving the beer-can in a threatening way before her arrest and had not been manhandled by Corcoran, a claim that was disputed by video evidence. Corcoran was charged with assaulting other protestors on the day and was subsequently acquitted.

During the eight-day hearing a taxi-driver gave evidence for the state during which he claimed that he had been bitten by Annette Ryan during a row in the city centre last year. Ryan admitted that she had bitten the taxi-driver after he had prevented her from getting out of his car and broken her finger.

Her solicitor, Yvonne Bambury of Ferry's Solicitors, recognised the taxi-driver as the accused in a case brought by his wife against him for verbal assault some months ago. It emerged that the surprise state witness had 22 previous convictions including for assault.

The case ended on 11 July after Judge Elizabeth Dunne agreed to a request by Annette Ryan's lawyers to introduce evidence contradicting a number of Garda witnesses. A garda told the court last week that it was universal policy to strip-search every person arrested and detained in a garda station. This was to establish whether the suspect was carrying any dangerous objects. A number of her colleagues supported this claim.

However, three witnesses who were not strip-searched when they were arrested and detained during the Reclaim the Street protest, and since agreed to testify for Ryan. The state's team, led by Conor Maguire SC, offered to settle the case. Ryan received a sum of €25,000 and her full legal costs for the 10-day hearing.

"I was very relieved as I knew my legal team, who were working on a 'no foal no fee' basis, would not have been paid if I did not win. The case was not about money. What happened to me and other people involved in the Reclaim the Streets event was fundamentally wrong and the compensation I received fully justifies my decision to bring this case," said Ryan.