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05 Jul 2022

Louth Senator John McGahon acquitted of assault

Dundalk Senator John McGahon acquitted of assault

Local Fine Gael Senator John McGahon has been acquitted by a jury of seriously assaulting a man outside a local bar and nightclub almost four years ago.

The 31 year old of Faughart Gardens, St. Patrick’s Terrace, Dundalk had pleaded not guilty at Dundalk Circuit Court to a charge of assaulting Breen White causing him harm on Park Street, Dundalk on June 16th 2018.

At the start of the trial the jury was shown CCTV footage of the incident from four cameras. Two from opposing angles outside The Rumhouse and two from separate Garda CCTV cameras.

The first day of the four day trial on Tuesday heard how the alleged victim had been out celebrating after his horse “Total Demolition” had won about €6,000 at an evening race meeting at Fairyhouse.

Mr. White told the jury he was leaving The Rumhouse with his wife Linda, when he claimed the defendant grabbed her ‘”in a sort of a maul” and put his arm around her as if to say ‘You’re coming with me”.

When he told him to leave her alone, the accused asked “What’s it to you?” and he told him that she is his wife.

He said while they were waiting outside the premises for his son to collect them, Mr. McGahon came up to him and asked “Have you a problem with me”. He told him he didn’t and said the accused repeatedly asked him his name. The witness claimed that he’d told the accused that he wouldn’t know him “and to go about his business”.

He claimed Mr. McGahon has asked him ‘Do you know who I am?”

He said this lasted for a few minutes which he said seemed a long time. He claimed the accused then began directing his questions to his wife and two men who seemed to know Mr. McGahon approached. The witness alleged the pair “realised very quickly that John was getting himself in trouble” and had told him to leave the situation.

Mr. White said that ‘handbags stuff’ followed. There was a scuffle and the next thing he knew he was on the ground “getting knocks and bangs about the head”.  He said he put his hands  up on his face and thought that water was running down it but it was blood.

The court heard the alleged injured party has given first aid at The Rumhouse and his son had taken him to hospital. Mr. White made a formal statement of complaint to gardai five days later.

During cross examination by Hugh Hartnett SC, Mr White confirmed that he is suing the accused for damages in a civil action. He said he wanted to make sure Mr. McGahon “would stand in court for viciously assaulting me”.  He added he’d told his solicitor he didn’t want the money and would give it to charity.

When Mr. Hartnett asked the complainant “Did you push him away – out in the middle of the footpath?” Mr. White replied “I don’t recall.”

He claimed “The man was after poking at me”.  When the Senior Counsel asked “Did you push him backwards because you were fed up with him” the witness replied “I don’t think so”.

When asked who threw the first blow, Mr. White replied “As far as I’m concerned it was John”. When pressed again, the witness said “I can’t say for definite”.

A statement which he gave his solicitor in preparation for a civil claim against Mr. McGahon, was then put to the witness. In it he had claimed the defendant had “Suddenly and without warning” assaulted him. Mr. Hartnett put it to Mr. White that this would not be reflected in CCTV footage. He asked the complainant to score his own honesty out of 10 and Mr White replied “Ten”.

When a settlement of €537,000 with CAB in 2017 was put to him, he said “It was a consent order that I agreed to. I have no previous convictions, that didn’t give John McGahon licence to viciously assault me. He also stressed ‘it wasn’t my money’. 

When his cross examination by the Defence resumed on Wednesday Breen White denied pulling the accused to the ground outside The Rumhouse or pushing him into the centre of the pavement.

When Senior Counsel Hugh Hartnett put it to him that he had a grip of Mr. McGahon by the throat, he replied “I never had a grip of John by the neck”.

When CCTV footage was replayed for the jury, and Mr Hartnett asked if he saw his hand on the defendant’s throat, Mr White said the accused had been poking at him “being a bully” and when he was asked if he’d pushed him out onto the street, he replied “No”.

Mr White said it was a friend of the defendant’s who was trying to defuse the situation and told the accused ‘to cop himself on’.

When the footage was paused, Senior Counsel asked him to explain the article on his client’s face, Mr White said “I don’t know. It’s not my hand”.  He later claimed the accused had fallen as he was drunk and from the momentum of his friend who had intervened.

When he was asked again if he had pushed Mr. McGahon, Mr White replied “I would have pushed him to stop him attacking me”.  He also denied dragging or driving the accused to the ground and responded “Definitely not” when the Senior Counsel suggested he was on top of the defendant in a still from the footage.

Mr Hartnett put it to Mr. White that the accused “after his being placed on the ground and you on top of him defended himself against your attacks”.

The witness replied “That’s not true” and he denied making it up as he was going along.

When the Senior Counsel suggested the ‘maul’ of his wife which Mr. White had referred to on the first day of the trial “was an arm around a shoulder in a friendly way”. The complainant replied “I didn’t see it that way and Mr. Hartnett said “You got aggravated” at Mr McGahon’s attempt to explain himself to you.

Mr. White’s wife Linda was the next witness to give evidence. She told the jury she had held her blazer up over her head, as she was about to walk out of The Rumhouse as it was drizzling, when she felt someone coming around with their arm who said “come on you’re coming home with me or come with me”. She said the arm was swaying or pulling her in the opposite direction that she going.

She said she didn’t know him and just waved him away and she was standing in under a ledge with her husband out of the rain, when John McGahon stood in front of them and started questioning her husband, asking him who he was, and then saying “can she not speak for herself”.

She said Breen White told him he was her husband and to go away but the witness said the accused was within arms-reach of them “poking” her husband in the chest.

The witness described him as an upstart and said that John McGahon was ‘shouldering and chesting’ her husband.

Ms. White claimed the accused was aggressive and sneering and Breen told him to get back and stop poking him.

She said three of John McGahon’s friends were pushing him back, but he broke free, and bought her husband to the ground.

She said these men were pulling him off her husband, and claimed the accused was on top of Breen thumping him and thumping him while he was ‘flat on the ground’.

When Senior Defence Council Hugh Hartnett asked if she remembered her husband pushing his client out onto the street. Ms White said no and she remembered him trying to stop John hitting him. It was John that was coming for Breen all the time”.

She replied “I think he slipped there” when it was put to her that the accused had been pulled to the ground by her husband.   Ms White replied “he was poking at him, he was pushing at him” when the Defence suggested the accused had been gesticulating at her husband.

Linda White also denied that Mr. McGahon was the victim saying “Breen didn’t attack John. John attacked Breen”.

Mr. White’s son Cormac Rafferty told the jury he had parked across the street from The Rumhouse and crossed over to tell Linda White where he was parked when “Out of nowhere there was a scuffle”. He added “The next thing I know Dad is lying on the ground being punched repeatedly on the head by John McGahon whose friends were trying to pull him off his father.

During cross examination, Mr Rafferty said what he’d witnessed happened within seconds of his arrival at the scene and he’d never seen anything as scary as that in his entire life.

On the third day of the trial, a Garda who spoke to the defendant on Earl Street on the night in question told the jury that the accused was intoxicated but was not arrested.

When he was interviewed four months later, the defendant told gardai that as everybody was being moved out of The Rumhouse he put his arm around a woman’s shoulder. He said it was totally innocent and friendly and something he did regularly.

He said her husband took issue with this and said as much to him and he offered an apology and the couple left the premises ahead of him.

The accused said more words were exchanged outside where all three had stood in for shelter, and he told the complaint there was no need to be annoyed or angry at him and to accept his apology, but Mr. McGahon said tensions increased and Mr. White had lifted his leg towards him.

He thought he was going to kick him, but he didn’t and pushing and shoving followed, when someone he knew from school put his arm around John McGahon in a bid to calm him down.

He said Breen White was in his face – getting up close and aggressive, and claimed he lunged at the defendant, missed him and hit the ground.

Mr. McGahon said he too ended up on the ground having retaliated and said he’d hit the complainant with open handed slaps.  He added there was quite a lot of blood on Mr White’s face from where he hit the pavement after lunging at the accused.

The jury heard the medical evidence noted Mr White told an E.D. doctor that he had been assaulted by four people who had kicked and punched him in the face and he was treated for superficial lacerations on the forehead and bridge of his nose.  

In his closing speech, Prosecutor Carl Hanahoe BL told the jury in his view the defendant having no previous convictions and Mr. White having settled with the Criminal Assets Bureau is “not at all relevant” and does not excuse or justify Mr. McGahon’s behaviour on the night.

He added the injuries sustained “were not caused by an open-handed slap”.  Mr. Hanahoe further argued that while Mr. McGahon had claimed he had stood in for shelter CCTV footage of the first part of the incident showed him standing in the rain and claimed it was “quite clear from those stills what is being administered”.

He added it was clear that Mr. McGahon ‘was not panicked’ and that ‘his blood was up and Mr. Hanahoe claimed the accused had initiated this incident and even if Mr. White had pushed the defendant “What occurred was an explosion of violence and it was utterly disproportionate.

Hugh Hartnett SC, defending, urged the jury to have regard to how his client considered the circumstances at the time. He said his client put his arm around a woman he did not know in a narrow area of the premises where everybody was moving out. He apologised for having done it and it was put to the jury “That is not initiating an aggressive assault”.

Mr. Hartnett argued that the violence began with the complainant pushing his client twice and on the second occasion pushing him into the centre of the road. He added Breen White had caught his client by the throat and subsequently rammed his hand into his face.

The Senior Counsel said he had brought up Mr. White’s €537,000 settlement with CAB as there is an issue in relation to his credibility as a witness.  Mr. Hartnett claimed the complainant ‘came out of his corner like a boxer’ and “he was going in there to attack – plain as a pikestaff”.

He asked the jury to consider if Mr. McGahon was using more force than he thought was necessary and if the Prosecution has proven the case beyond all reasonable doubt.

Trial Judge Dara Hayes told the jury they have to decide if Mr McGahon is guilty of assaulting Mr White causing him serious harm and that he did so without lawful excuse, and that the Prosecution has negatised the defence of ‘self-defence’.

The jury returned the verdict on Friday afternoon after six and a half hours of deliberations.

Judge Hayes thanked the four men and seven women for their jury service. The court heard on the morning of the second day of the trial that the 12th juror had become ill overnight and was unable to continue as a member of the jury.

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