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Garda fell eight feet into drain at protest in Bellananboy fell eight feet into drain at protest in Bellananboy A FEMALE garda revealed how she could not breathe after she fell head first into an eight-foot drain full of water and muck – and thought she was going to be left there. Garda Orla Nelson (24), of Castleblayney Garda Station, was giving evidence at the hearing of Mr Edward ‘The Yank’ Collins of 8 Ferry Close, Pollathomas, Ballina, at Belmullet District Court, who is charged with obstruction of a peace officer at a Shell to Sea National Day of Protest in Bellanaboy on November 10, 2006. Garda Nelson explained that she started work at 5am and was told by Superintendent Joe Gannon that Section 21 of the Public Order Act was to be enforced, which restricted access by the Shell to Sea protesters to the road going to the Corrib gas refinery site. She said she arrived at the location at 5.45am and the Gardaí formed a line to restrict access to the road by the protesters. She said it was peaceful at the start but the first Garda line was broken by the protesters and she explained the gardaí tried to form another line. She said that Mr Collins pushed past her and when she told him to get back, she said he replied, ‘get the f**k off my camera’. She said he would not get off the road and they both had a hold of each other. Garda Nelson revealed that she fell face first into the ditch and could not hear or see anything. She said to herself, ‘nobody knows you’re here’, and explained she physically could not get her head up and could not breathe. “I was submerged in muck and I did not realise until after that other people were in the ditch. I was so frightened that I was the only one in the ditch. The smell was horrendous and I couldn’t get my head up and I couldn’t breathe. “We were both holding each other and the force pushed me backwards. I am not saying Mr Collins pushed me intentionally but because of the actions he took, we both ended up in the ditch,” she said. When she lifted her head she could hear someone say, ‘he is holding her head’, but could not see who they were talking about. She said some local people offered her the use of a shower to wash herself and gave her a change of clothes. Under questioning from Mr Edward Garr, solicitor for Mr Collins, Garda Nelson denied assaulting Mr Collins and reaffirmed her claim that she ended up in the ditch because he was obstructing her from doing her job and his actions forced her into the ditch. When Mr Garr said that the DVD of the incident showed two male gardaí holding Mr Collins before they fell into the ditch, Garda Nelson explained she did not know there were other gardaí involved, or that Mr Collins had ended up in the ditch until she saw the video footage. She also said she did not recognise Mr Collins when he was pointed out to her before the court. Sergeant David Hockney explained he was on evidence-gathering duty on the morning of the protest and had been video-recording the protests. He said there was a lot of shouting but his attentions were drawn to an incident at the back. He said that Garda Nelson was struggling with Mr Collins and two other male gardaí went to assist her. They caught hold of him but Sgt Hockney said Mr Collins resisted and both he and Garda Nelson fell in the drain. He said that he could not see Garda Nelson in the drain because Mr Collins fell on top of her and said she was covered in sludge when she was helped out. Garda Donal Rafferty said he was on duty at the protest and at 8am he saw a female colleague struggling with a protester. He said that the protester was stronger than her and he tried to grab him. However, he said that Mr Collins resisted and as he did both he and Garda Nelson fell into the ditch. He said when Mr Collins was trying to get up he pushed down on Garda Nelson but he believed he did not do it on purpose. When the State evidence concluded, Mr Garr asked Judge Devins to dismiss the charge against his client because he said that in evidence Garda Nelson said they were not diverting the protesters from an event because there had been no event. He said that the act mentions an event which is being planned, and because Garda Nelson said there was no event, he claimed his client could not have breached the act. Judge Mary Devins said that Garda Nelson was not a lawyer and could not analyse the law but she added that he brought up an interesting point regarding the definition of an event. She said that Section 21 allowed a superintendent the authority to restrict access to persons to a place where an event is likely to take place. She said that on the day a cordon was set up to allow access for vehicles to the site and asked if this could be described as an event. She said if the matter was flawed, did that make everything that flowed during the day flawed as well – which included whether Garda Nelson was acting in the course of her duties when the incident occurred. She said this was a point of law that needed further investigation and adjourned the case until April 9.

Posted Date: 
22 February 2008 - 6:29pm