Charleton Tribunal: Sergeant denies 'suggesting things' to alleged victim in taking statement

A garda sergeant at the Charleton Tribunal has said that taking a victim statement was "not an exact science," when asked about a statement made by the partner of a garda whistleblower.

Sergeant Brigid McGowan was outlining contacts between the HSE and gardaí about welfare concerns over the children of Marisa Simms, partner of garda whistleblower garda Keith Harrison in 2013.

The sergeant disagreed with counsel for Ms Simms, Hugh Hartnett SC, who put it to her that she and a garda inspector had been "suggesting things; that you were saying things to her during this eight-hour interview."

Sgt McGowan insisted that the words in Ms Simms' statement were the words of the alleged victim, and that in the course of taking a statement, questions could be asked to clarify names, dates or places.

Sergeant McGowan said she first learned about Garda Keith Harrison on February 9, 2013, when she was contacted by Ms Una Coll from the HSE about an anonymous letter mentioning Garda Keith Harrison, and expressing concerns about child welfare.

Keith Harrison and Marissa Simms arriving at the Disclosures Tribunal. Pic:

"I knew he was a guard and I knew he was stationed in Donegal. I hadn't heard anything about him before 2012," Sergeant McGowan said.

After meeting with Ms Coll, Sergeant McGowan forwarded a report to Eugene McGovern, the superintendent in charge of the Milford district in Co. Donegal.

The sergeant said she checked the Pulse system to find out the address of Marisa Simms, Garda Harrison's partner, and found that Garda Harrison had also checked her details numerous times.

In March 2013, Sergeant McGowan met again with the HSE, who informed her "that the matter is now closed to them as there are no child welfare concerns in this case."

In October 2013, Sergeant McGowan learned about concerns regarding Garda Harrison from the mother and sister of Marisa Simms, Rita McDermott and Paul McDermott.

On October 6, Sergeant McGowan and Inspector Goretti Sheridan took a statement from Marisa Simms in Letterkenny garda station.

Ms Simms was brought to an upstairs room to give her statement, allowing greater privacy.

"She spoke about things and as she spoke I began to take notes on the back of a piece of paper," Sergeant McGowan said.

"The statement, it took a while, but with any victim of crime you want to make sure they are comfortable in their surroundings, you deal with them as best you can."

"I have to say, based on what she told me, I felt for her."

In the statement, Ms Simms alleged that Keith Harrison had threatened to "bury" herself and her sister during an argument because he had not been invited to a wedding, and that he had said "I am going to burn you."

Sergeant McGowan denied having told Ms Simms to "think of her children", and said she was shocked to learn that Ms Simms claimed this had occurred.

Sergeant McGowan said when Ms Simms completed her statement, "I felt at the end she was a relieved woman, almost as if she had unburdened herself."

Sergeant McGowan said, because there were child welfare issues, gardaí were obliged to notify the HSE.

The HSE notification form noted "Emotional abuse" and gave details that a child was "present during argument between mother and partner." Sergeant McGowan said she had no control over who might see the form in the HSE, so she did not want to put too much detail in the notification form.

On October 21, a strategy meeting was arranged with the HSE, and Sergeant McGowan said she disclosed details of the argument between Garda Harrison and Ms Simms at this meeting.

Tribunal barrister Kathleen Leader said it appeared the HSE would disagree about how much detail they were given at this meeting.

"Definitively during the course of that meeting I told them about the threats that had been made while the children were present," Sergeant McGowan said.

"I specifically remember the meeting. I know I told them about the threats to burn because that was the purpose of the meeting, that the serious threats were there," Sergeant McGowan said.

In January 2014, Ms Simms withdrew her statement of complaint, following which Sergeant McGowan informed the HSE. On 27 February, the HSE advised gardaí that as there were no ongoing child welfare or protection issues following an initial assessment, the case would be closed.

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