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Bullies in blue uniforms

Senior Garda officers consistently deny claims that members of the police force are subjected to bullying. But there's a great deal of anecdotal evidence that they are. Here's one garda's horrific account of how a career choice led to him being driven from the force by the bullies in blue



I am a member of An Garda Siochana, garda rank, with over 20 years service. I am married with three children. I took up duty as Community Garda some years ago. A few years ago I attended a course in conflict resolution (Generic Mediation).

During this course a sergeant in my station changed his behaviour towards me. In the past we were on good terms, both professionally and personally. I began to notice that when I entered his office he would tilt his head towards me with a threatening frown on his face, for no apparent reason. Other occasions when I was on my own I would sense someone staring at me and I would find the Sergeant making the same facial gestures towards me. I was confused as to why he was behaving like this as we had previously had a good working relationship. When I would apply for leave or time-off there were comments, e.g. "are you going to do any real work?". Other times when I left a room he was in, be it the kitchen, his office or other room, there would be a big laugh. He shouted at me when I returned the patrol car one evening, in the presence of other gardai, saying "you don't need the car for flouting around" (his view of community policing).

While this behaviour continued I noticed this was affecting my health and I was not sleeping well. In the morning I felt more tired then when I went to sleep. I also had pains in my knees and had bouts of diarrhoea. I was not aware that I was suffering from stress and anxiety and that this was as a result of the Sergeant's behaviour, which I now know was bullying. I was anxious to make the Sergeant aware of his behaviour towards me and try to resume the good relationship we had previously. I picked my moment, when he was alone in his office. I asked him was there a problem with my work, he said "no, I have no problem with your work". I approached him a second time. I told him I would rather leave the station than for us to fall out. He spoke about my work and was very dismissive. On a third occasion I asked him was there something wrong with me, to which he replied "you take everything personally".

After each time I approached him, his bullying behaviour towards me got worse, as if he saw it as a weakness and preyed on it. All my efforts were in vain. My home was also targeted. He started phoning my home while I was at work enquiring my whereabouts from my wife. Once he phoned my home twice on the same day, knowing since that morning I was in Kerry on a cash escort. His behaviour had included my family. It was now at a stage that in my home everyone was afraid of the phone when it rang.

I successfully completed the course (first year). I had concluded at this stage that the sergeant's attitude towards me coincided with this course and felt maybe this was the reason for his change towards me. I submitted my project to my Superintendent and to HQ, entitled ‘Mediation within Community Policing'. On a Sunday morning at about 11am my Superintendent phoned me. He said he had read the project twice and "it's very good and all gardai should be trained in this".

There was a second year to the course. Eight places were available, I secured one. I applied to attend. The Sergeant said "the course is only suitable for social workers and we are experts in dealing with conflict". This same Sergeant submitted a glowing letter of support for part one, saying it was a necessary tool for me in dealing with conflict on the ground. After weeks of delay I inquired from the Superintendent about sanction to do the course. He also said it was more suitable for social workers.

They eventually refused the course. I persevered and undertook to do the course at my own expense and time (all my holidays and time off). The course was for two days per week for the academic year. I had to agree an unworkable timetable with the Sergeant to receive his approval. It meant finishing the course at 5pm and to commence duty that same evening at 6pm on some days, finishing duty at 2am in the morning and then attending the course at 9am later that morning. I had to withdraw from the course after a few weeks as the strain of the Sergeant's behaviour towards me took its toll. I tried to pursue the course but found I couldn't as I was too stressed. Often, there were detectives standing opposite the entrance when I was leaving in the evening.

The graduation date (for the first year) was drawing near. The garda press office phoned me at home and asked me would I talk to the Irish Times about my course. The press office said the Force could do with some positive press. The Times wanted to do an article on the benefits of mediation in An Garda Siochana. The article was published in the EL supplement. I was looking forward to the Graduation after the excitement of doing the Times interview. I applied for special leave to attend my graduation. The Sergeant told me there was no provision for this. I showed him the regulations and told him I was attending in uniform. He said that if you are attending in uniform it would be regarded as work and leave would not be necessary. I applied for two days leave, Friday (night duty) off to travel and day duty on Saturday to attend. At approximately 11am on the Friday before my graduation, the Sergeant phoned me at home and said one day's leave was approved, and he would see me that evening (to work until 2am). I contacted the press office and told them I was unable to attend my graduation and explained my dilemma. He told me he would sort it out.

Later that day my Superintendent phoned me and said to take the Friday leave to attend my graduation. I asked him if I could see him and he agreed to see me later that day, as my wife and I felt it was time to inform the Superintendent about the Sergeant's behaviour, as at this stage the behaviour was severely affecting me. At the meeting he was very sarcastic and dismissive. He said: "Aren't you the mediator? Wouldn't this be a good one for you to mediate yourself?"

This response led me feeling shattered with no recourse but to invoke the INTERNAL GRIEVANCE PROCEDURE. This I did very reluctantly. It was the worst thing I could have done, but I was not to know this at the time: the Chief dealing with this broke me down. From the outset he trivialised everything I had to say and made no attempt to address any of my concerns. He had me stalked at night when I went for a walk. Regular phone calls to my home directing me to attend meetings during the grievance procedure at short notice. Patrol cars calling at all times. My pay envelopes and other post opened and subsequently hand-delivered. I was on my knees. My head felt like I was going to suffocate. I was going around and around. The situation was snowballing after every meeting. The chief did not identify this behaviour as wrong. Instead he kept pushing me, trying to force me into thinking I was the problem. I was not aware that once you invoke the internal grievance procedure you become the problem.

The chief was promoted to Assistant Commissioner. Shortly after, he phoned my home. He said "I'm staying with this one" in an aggressive tone — meaning that he was not letting me go, even though the regulations say he has to pass it to his successor.

I contacted a psychologist for support on the advice of my GP. The psychologist's opinion was that the grievance procedure was very damaging and that I was not to attend any further meetings. Instead he would attend on my behalf. It was then agreed by the A/Comm that, in order for me to return to work, the issues with the Sergeant needed to be addressed. The psychologist tried to organise a meeting with the A/Comm, the Sergeant, the psychologist and myself. The Sergeant refused to attend. He was given discretion to attend this meeting or not, unlike myself during the Grievance Procedure.

I asked A/Comm to allow me to return to work under the supervision of the community policing sergeant. He said no, that I would be under the supervision of the Sergeant-in-charge (the sergeant I complained about). After attending 13 meeting and employing a psychologist (at a cost to me of over €1,000) to sort this out, the A/Comm wrote to me saying "You have made no effort to sort this out" and he also refused to give his findings.

My home was in turmoil. I have two teenagers and a young child. Everybody was stressed out. Phone calls to my home from the chief's office and patrol cars arriving at any time, was putting us under enormous pressure. I felt that returning to work would bring back the appearance, at least, of normality to my family in my home and would take the pressure off my home life. I had no choice but to return to work under the supervision of the same Sergeant I had complained about.

Nothing had changed. I felt disillusioned, abused, defeated, depressed, very stressed and fearful of what I was returning to. I returned to work. I was not happy with the operation of the grievance procedure or the fact that they refused to give me any findings, but I had no choice. I had to ask the sergeant for an item of uniform which was issued when I was on sick leave. He said to me "that was issued when you were on holidays". I was feeling very hurt, and this comment confirmed for me that nothing was going to change. This was causing further damage and pain. Nobody inquired as to my welfare, or as how things were now working out with the Sergeant, nobody cared.

The Sergeant told me that he was going to make adjustments to my roster. He was being hyper-vigilant towards my work. He was looking for faults. He was looking for revenge, in the form of transferring me or disciplining me in some way. I could do nothing to stop him. My fears proved right, as a short time later I was asked to call to the Superintendent. He asked would I "do him a favour" and leave Community Policing and go to a unit. I asked him was there a problem with my work or had he received a complaint. He said the community policing sergeant said that communications were not the way they he wanted them to be.

After the meeting I went to the Sergeant-in-charge of Community Policing and told him the Superintendent wanted to move me from Community Policing. I asked him had he a problem with my work. He said "I am not going to be used as a scapegoat here". At this point I was frightened and desperate and felt I was near breaking point. I contacted HQ to see the Garda doctor. I asked him for his protection as my medical officer, he advised me to go back to the Superintendent. I did this. The Superintendent said he would get back to me when I contacted him, but he never did.

One evening while I was on duty, I responded to a call of a disturbance on the street. I was on my own in the car. I arrived to find a Travellers' feud involving over 100 men. They were armed with slashers, bill hooks, knives, and other weapons. I stopped the row and arrested four men. A number were taken to hospital suffering from mutilation of a finger, deep cuts to heads, bodies, arms and necks. At 11.30pm I was leaving the city station after dealing with this case. I had been due to finish at 6pm. No one contacted me at the city station to ask was I OK, or to say well done.

This incident was on local radio next day. Residents in the area spoke and described what had taken place and said how brave I was. Not one comment from my colleagues the next day. I thought that this would clear the air at the station: how wrong I was. I could have been killed.

The Sergeant in-charge was promoted to Sergeant in-charge of Regional HQ ( next step to inspector). I was delighted, as this meant he would be leaving the station. I did not care if they made him a Chief, as long as he was moved away from me. A new Sergeant arrived at the station. I thought things would get better but I could not have been more wrong — I realised that what had been bullying was now upgraded to mobbing.

I was Chairman of the Garda Drugs and Crime Projects, which were funded by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law reform. Two full-time workers were employed by the Projects. The new Sergeant told me "not to have them calling in to your office, because they would have left wing views and would be listening to things".

At the station I was informed by a garda colleague that the Sergeant who had left (Sergeant whom I had problems with previously and was now in headquarters) had phoned and said to inform me that my that my duty for the next day was changed. This was the Sergeant I invoked the grievance against. He was no longer my Sergeant, but was still directing me, and this he was allowed to do by his superiors. The new Sergeant took me off some of my regular duties, cash escorts, etc. I wrote and asked why but got no reply. I was told I was not to drive patrol cars any more. (The Garda doctor said I was fit to drive and wrote a letter accordingly.) I asked in writing why I was not allowed to drive. No reply.

The Sergeant called a meeting because he wanted to adjust my roster, the other community garda at my station was not required to attend. As I was writing who was in attendance at the start of the meeting the Sergeant-in-charge asked me what I was doing in a very aggressive manner. I told him I was going to note the changes to my roster. He shouted "put down the pen". I said I needed to note the changes. He replied, "I'm the Sergeant in-charge here and I'm telling you to put down the pen or I'll discipline you". My roster was changed completely in an attempt to move me from Community Policing, as all other efforts had failed.

I received aggressive files from the Sergeant at the station asking me to explain did I fraudulently signed off for a meeting and why was I attending meetings on my days off.

Court Notification was withheld. But for the fact that the court had contacted me directly and another garda notified me, I would have missed the court and would have been disciplined for so doing. I was very worried. I feared I was being set up. I felt that they were trying to ruin my so far perfect record by having me disciplined.

I changed my car. I parked the new car in the staff car-park behind the station. When I arrived home at lunch hour I discovered a deep scratch on the rear door and the rear window wiper bent.

This was all taking its toll on my already fragile health. Shortly after I relayed the happenings to my solicitor who advised me to get out. The mobbing, which was very apparent since my return to work, was getting more and more disturbing. I had problems eating and sleeping. It consumed me and made me feel sick with worry as to what I should do. Internally I had tried everything. My wife was worried when I went to work. I had a story to tell on my return every day. The atmosphere at the station was intolerable. Other gardai were guarded in their dealings with me, afraid of being implicated as all knew only too well what was happening. I felt totally powerless and extremely stressed and alone. I was taking on a very powerful organisation, one with great power — what could I do? I resigned.

This case is going to the High Court. Regardless of the outcome I have lost my career, which means: I have lost. The bullies will stay and nothing will change. Maybe if enough of us stand up things will change. When highlighting this kind of behaviour, be prepared to lose your career, as happened to me. I loved my job and would dearly love to be able to go back to it. My confidence is such that now I no longer feel able to do the simplest of tasks; even as I write this I am breaking out in a sweat. It's a long and hard journey, one that I would not recommend. Time will tell if I will recover sufficiently and return to the happy lifestyle, which they have ruined, for my family and I.

The Garda Siochana (‘Guardians of the Peace') is the Irish national police force. In recent years, several examples of corruption and perversion of justice by police have emerged, including false arrests and frame-ups, and several public inquiries are continuing. There is a great deal of evidence of an internal culture of bullying and intimidation, though Garda headquarters denies there is a problem.

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