3 July 2003 Edition

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Irish in the wrong place


The same unit of the Metropolitan Police which shot and killed Diarmuid O'Neill in 1996, SO19, is to face legal action brought by a London-based Irishman, Dermott O'Reilly, after he was arrested in an armed raid on his home in the early hours of the morning, severely beaten and held for more than two months before having all charges against him dropped.

The incident began on the evening of 1 April this year after the shooting of Gamal Georgy in Fulham. Dermott, who was a home in Chelsea together with his partner, Brenda, and their two young daughters, was woken at 4am the following morning by the sound of his door being kicked in.

Around 15 heavily armed officers from SO19 dragged 29-year-old Dermott from his bed, took him to Hammersmith police station and charged him with the attempted murder of Georgy - a man who Dermott has never seen or met in his life. During the course of the arrest he was, as he says, "dragged all around the bedroom, over cupboards and all" by four or five officers and was beaten so badly that, apart from severe bruising, he needed nine stitches to a groin injury he received. Despite the severity of the injury, however, he was not transferred to hospital for treatment until two days after his arrest.

After being charged, Dermott was transferred to Belmarsh Prison, where he was designated as a 'Vulnerable Prisoner', which effectively identifies a prisoner as a sex offender and makes him a target for violent attacks by other prisoners. Dermott only avoided such attacks by carrying paperwork with him showing that he had not been charged with any sexual offence.

As it became apparent to the police that the murder charge against Dermott could not be sustained - no link between him and the victim could be established, he had an alibi and had twice voluntarily subjected himself to an identity parade, both of which were negative - they resorted to an old and favoured tactic of the Met in dealing with the Irish community to ensure that they could continue to detain him.

In statements given in mid-May by two of the officers involved in the arrest, the Met attempted to hang the label of "terrorist" on Dermott, who has lived in London for some 15 years. According to one officer, Michael Sugme, "Intelligence given by DI Scott linked O'Reilly to terrorist activity". It appears that at no point did the either Sugme or DI Scott think it necessary to provide any evidence or even further detail of what this "activity" might be. Similarly, another officer, Andrew Carr, said in his statement that, during a briefing, "it was previously stated that he [Dermott] had previously been deported from Birmingham in connection with a terrorism matter". This equally untrue and frankly implausible claim was also unsupported by any evidence.

After a deadline by the Old Bailey to provide the forensic evidence which they were claiming to have, the police were finally forced to concede that they actually did not have any after all, nor indeed any case whatsoever against Dermott, and he was released on 11 June. He is now bringing charges of assault, wrongful arrest and wrongful imprisonment against the Met. He is also investigating whether he can bring charges against the prison service in relation to his having been wrongfully, and perhaps maliciously, identified as a sex offender whilst being detained.

Throughout his detention, Dermott says that he knew "one hundred per cent" that he would eventually be exonerated. "I knew, and my solicitor has come to the same conclusion, that these 'terrorism matters' which came up in the police statements were to hold me so that they could do other checks." In prison, he says, with rumours that were circulated about him and the VP status imposed on him, "they tried to make my life as difficult as hell". Since his release, the police have continued to stoke rumours against him, even telling the victim, Gamal Georgy, that Dermott was a "professional hit man".

The experience has thoroughly traumatised both Dermott and Brenda and their lives in London have become almost impossible. Dermott, a carpenter, has lost his job, and Brenda and the couple's two daughters have been subjected to a campaign of intimidation and racism by their neighbours after the local newspapers printed details of the charges being made against Dermott and of where the family lives.

Although the local housing office has said it will support the family in taking action against those neighbours who harass the family, the attitude of the community has become so hostile, says Dermott, he and Brenda have decided that, once his case against the Met has been resolved, they will return to his native Armagh.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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