A mart worker has walked out of a criminal court with his innocence intact, after he successfully appealed an order of the District Court, which did not record a conviction against him, but found he had assaulted a farmer with a baton.
On April 23, 2021, Limerick District Court found the alleged facts of the assault were proven against Pat Ryan (66), who had denied assaulting John O’Brien and causing him harm, contrary to Section 3 of the Non Fatal Offences Against the Person Act.
Mr O’Brien alleged that Mr Ryan, a long-time employee of Golden Vale Mart Yard, Gotoon, Kilmallock, Co Limerick, struck him across the face with a baton at the mart, on June 17, 2019.
Mr Ryan was one of a number of mart workers who were authorised to use a baton to direct livestock into a sale ring at the facility.
Last April, the sentencing judge found the facts were proven, but applied the Probation Act, and no conviction was recorded against Mr Ryan.
On Tuesday, Mr Ryan - through his solicitor, Brendan Gill - brought an application to Limerick Circuit Court, appealing the decision of the District Court.
Judge Tom O’Donnell heard Mr O’Brien was pursuing a civil claim for damages from Mr Ryan at St Anns Terrace, Kilfinane, Co Limerick, arising out of the alleged assault.
Judge O’Donnell said Mr Ryan’s application to effectively appeal his non-conviction was unheard of in his 25 years on the bench.
Enquiring if he could hear the application, Judge O’Donnell asked Aidan Judge, State Solicitor for County Limerick, “as a matter of law, can one appeal the Probation Act? I didn't think one could", to which Mr Judge replied that it was “technically” possible.
Judge O’Donnell told Mr Ryan’s solicitor Brendan Gill, Maurice Power Solicitors, Kilmallock, that because the appeal meant he would be hearing the evidence fresh, it was now open to him to potentially record a conviction against Mr Ryan, who had no conviction recorded against him in last April.
Mr O’Brien told the court Mr Ryan “hit” him with a baton on the right side of his face, causing “bruising” and “swelling” to his jaw.
Mr O’Brien said he had been due to have a filling put in one of his teeth, but that his dentist couldn’t perform the procedure as “I couldn't open my mouth wide enough”, due to his alleged injuries.
Mr O’Brien complained of headaches and dizzy spells after the alleged assault, and he went to a doctor who prescribed him pain relief and ordered an X-ray.
Under cross-examination by Mr Gill, Mr O’Brien insisted the doctor had told him “there was swelling in the jaw”.
However, Mr Gill said that while the doctor’s medical report noted Mr O’Brien had complained of “tenderness” in his left cheek, Mr Gill said there “no mention” of swelling or “bruising” or “cuts” or “any injury”.
Mr Gill put it to Mr O’Brien that the dentist’s medical report found no injury to Mr O’Brien’s teeth, to which Mr O’Brien replied: “Sorry, the dentist couldn’t do the filling.”
The results of the hospital's X-ray of Mr O’Brien’s jaw were “normal”, the court heard.
Mr Gill put it to Mr O’Brien he had taken civil proceedings against Mr Ryan and that Mr Ryan believed he was “fabricating” the assault “for financial gain”.
Mr O’Brien replied: “I went to yourselves about it first - well, not you - but a colleague of yours who advised me.”
Mr Gill retorted: “That’s the first I’ve heard of it.”
Both Mr O’Brien and Mr Ryan agreed they did not get along with one another.
Mr O’Brien claimed he had permission to enter one of the mart’s livestock sale rings on the day in question, however Mr Ryan stated in his evidence that members of the public are not allowed into the ring for “health and safety and insurance reasons”.
Mr Ryan said “certain words were exchanged” between the pair, but he completely refuted the allegation, telling the court “I did not strike Mr O’Brien”.
Mr Ryan said they had “never seen eye to eye”, but that the day in question was their first “confrontation”.
Mr O’Brien agreed that he made a complaint to Gardai seven days after the alleged assault. A garda who took Mr O’Brien’s statement on that date told the court she did not see any sign of injury to Mr O’Brien’s face.
Mr Gill told the court there were no witnesses to the alleged assault, and “no evidence of any injuries”, and he said it “would not be right or fair” to convict Mr Ryan.
Judge O’Donnell said the “onus” was on the prosecution “to prove (the allegation) beyond a reasonable doubt”, and he was satisfied it had not achieved this, stating, “I certainly don’t feel it’s a Section 3 (assault causing harm) matter, and I would even have reservations about a Section 2 (common assault)”.
Allowing Mr Ryan’s appeal, and striking out the order of the District Court, the judge said: “Given the evidence I have to have some doubt and I therefore have to give the benefit to (Mr Ryan).”