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The wrong arm of the law
Garda corruption resulted in a Donegal publican’s false imprisonment under horrifying circumstances. But the input of Republican vigilantes in the framing of an innocent man should not be forgotten.
Eamonn McCann, 08 May 2007
In March, the Supreme Court more than doubled, to 4.6 million euro, the damages awarded to Donegal publican Frank Shortt for what Justice Adrian Hardiman described as “the worst known oppression of a citizen by the state.” Garda treatment of Mr. Shortt, said Hardiman, had been “so outrageous as almost to defy description.”
Shortt had been jailed for three years in 1995 after being convicted of allowing the sale of drugs in his nightclub, the Point Inn at Quigley’s Point on the Inishowen peninsula, about 10 miles from Derry. He served 27 months in Mountjoy.
The Supreme Court described the conditions he’d endured: “The floor was of lino badly burnt and unclean. His bed had a thin horsehair mattress. There was a stench. The cell was infested with mice and cockroaches. There were no washing or toilet facilities. The toilet was a small aluminium soup pot. He was confined to the cell for 17 hours each day. He had to slop out each day in the toilet area, the floor of which was generally covered with urine, excreta and vomit. He was allowed out of the cell to collect his meals, which he then took back to the cell to consume.”
Shortt was a former accountant and a 61-year-old father of five. He had never previously been in trouble of any kind with the law. Prison was to shatter him. He lost more than 30 pounds. His family was vilified in public and ostracised in Inisowen. He was refused release to visit his seriously ill wife in hospital.
The conviction had arisen from two Garda raids on the Point Inn. The first, shortly after midnight on August 3rd 1992, involved more than 60 officers in riot gear who smashed their way in through the emergency exits, using sledgehammers. Amid screams of panic and pandemonium, customers were seized at random and roughly searched. Some were beaten with batons or wrestled to the ground. A number, including young women, had their trousers pulled down. Seven people were arrested: all were released within hours, without charge.
The second raid, in February 1993, followed the same pattern. This time, more than 100 officers were involved: this is believed to have been the largest-ever single muster of gardaí in Donegal. Seven ecstasy tablets were found. Frank Shortt was arrested and charged.