€50k damages for garda who feared being set on fire by angry protester
A retired garda who feared he was going to be doused with petrol and set on fire has been awarded just under €50,000 damages at a garda compensation hearing in the High Court.
Karl Cummins (59) told Mr Justice Michael Twomey he had been on security duty at the protection post outside the Department of the Taois- each in 2009 when he was approached by a serial protester carrying a container of petrol.
"He kept clicking a cigarette lighter, which thankfully did not light for him. It was probably why no one was physically burned in the incident," he said.
He added that the terrifying incident had led to him developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which had changed his life.
Mr Cummins, of Alderwood Lawn, Springfield, Tallaght, said the protester had accused him mistakenly of having been part of a group of gardai who had allegedly beaten him up outside the Dail some time previously.
The man became very agit- ated and angry and shouted expletives at him and other gardai.
He told his barrister, Brid O'Flaherty, that when he smelled petrol fumes and saw the man, his face contorted in rage, threateningly click the lighter and brandish the petrol container close to him, he withdrew and raised the alarm.
Mr Cummins said this had led to the Department of the Taoiseach being locked down, with no member of his staff being allowed to enter or leave the building.
He had caused the department to be alerted and advised that if the then taoiseach, Enda Kenny, was on his way to his office he should be warned of the threat and enter the building by another entrance.
Ms O'Flaherty told the judge that the then Gda Cummins called for back-up and gardai and firefighters rushed to the scene.
Mr Cummins said firefighters trained hoses on the protester in readiness for any attack until the arrival of the hero of the hour, Inspector John Rice.
Insp Rice, despite being doused with petrol himself, struggled with the protester and succeeded in "disarming" him.
Mr Cummins told the court that he considered himself to be in grave danger and feared for his life.
He had expected the petrol to be thrown over him and then ignited. He did not know if the man also intended throwing petrol over himself and setting himself on fire.
Ms O'Flaherty told Mr Justice Twomey that Mr Cummins developed PTSD and was off work for months, before later retiring from the force.
She said there was a conflict in opinion of psychiatrists for both Mr Cummins and the Public Expenditure and Reform Minister.
Neither was being called to give evidence and the matter was being left for the court to resolve on the basis of their expert medical reports.
Mr Cummins told the court he had developed intrusive recollections of the incident and suffered multiple symptoms including anxiety, sleeplessness and nightmares.
"I became a different man, both argumentative and irritable," he said.
Mr Cummins told Kevin Dinneen, counsel for the minister, that he had rarely taken alcohol before the incident, but had "taken comfort" in it after the event.
Mr Justice Twomey, awarding Mr Cummins €25,000 damages, together with more than €24,000 for expenses and loss of earnings, said he had suff-ered psychological injuries but had substantially recovered by May 2010.