TWO Limerick men have been convicted of soliciting the services of prostitutes from under-cover female gardai during ‘Operation Freewheel’, an ongoing garda operation targeting those behind the supply and demand of prostitution in Limerick city.
At Limerick District Court, Judge Eugene O’Kelly rejected claims that the men were victims of entrapment “by agents of the State”.
Judge O’Kelly said prostitution has become “a scourge in the city, which is causing particular difficulty to the good citizens of Limerick.”
“The gardai are under significant pressure to do something about this evil and I’m satisfied they’re entitled to mount this operation,” he said.
In December last, 27 men were brought before Limerick District Court, charged with “soliciting or importuning for the purposes of prostitution” on dates between November 11 and December 4 2011, under Section 7 of the Criminal Law Sexual Offences Act, 1993.
Twenty-one of the men admitted the offence, made a donation of €470 to a nominated charity and had their charges struck out.
Yesterday, two further men appeared before Judge Eugene O’Kelly to contest the same charges, after being arrested on Barrington Street in the city on November 12, 2011, and December 3, 2011.
Garda Sharon Quirke, Roxboro Road garda station, told the court that after taking up duty at 6pm on November 12 she was assigned to this operation.
She said she was wearing a black top, jacket, trousers and boots, and was approached by a male - a 53 year-old from Adare - who asked her a series of questions.
“I was asked: Was I working? Did I have a place close by? How much was I charging for sex? What would I get for €20?” she told the court.
She said the man had a “nervous disposition”, and did not give her an opportunity to respond to any of these questions.
As arranged during an operation briefing with Sergeant Martin O’Sullivan, she then made a gesture to other gardai in plain clothes, sitting in an unmarked patrol car nearby, and gave the signal that the man was soliciting her for these services, by tipping the top of her boots.
Garda Niamh Keogh, also stationed at Roxboro Road, was positioned beside her, and she too made the gesture to her colleagues in the patrol car.
Brian McInerney, BL, maintained his client’s interactions with the gardai was “an entirely innocent conversation, with no purpose behind it.”
Garda Keogh, who was wearing jeans, brown boots, a brown jacket and scarf at the time, said she did not hear her colleague engaging in conversation with the defendant. She said the man appeared “appeared agitated, as if he wanted to get everything out”, by asking the questions so fast.
The defendant was arrested by Garda Shane Ryan and brought back to Roxboro Road station, while both gardai continued their operation, only taking a break to get in to a car to write their contemporaneous notes.
However, Garda Keogh said she made no written notes about this interaction, stating: “He wasn’t talking to me.”
“I remember the night clearly. It’s not an operation we do every day,” she said under cross-examination, and identified the defendant in court.
On December 3, 2011, Garda Quirke was again stationed on Barrington Street and was approached at 21.50pm by a 60 year-old male from the Fr Russell Road area.
“I was asked: Was I working? How much are we charging? What’s on offer? What was I charging for sex?”
The same signal was given, and he was arrested by Garda Keith McCarthy.
On this occasion, Garda Quirke was accompanied by Garda Liz Galvin, who said they were given instructions regarding the answers they should give the men. Garda Galvin said they were told to give a “bare answer, and to keep it brief”, and not to engage in conversation with the men.
Mr McInerney applied for both cases to be dismissed on the grounds of “material inconsistencies” in the evidence of the gardai, entrapment whereby “agents of the State were masquerading as somebody else and seeking to capture persons,” and the alleged non-disclosure of certain evidence, namely the replies given by female gardai.
“The State are not allowed to present evidence in that way and get away with it,” Mr McInerney submitted.
Insp Seamus Ruane said while there was a “lack of content” regarding particular answers by the gardai, they were all consistent in their evidence and said the application was “misfounded.”
Judge O’Kelly said he was impressed by Garda Galvin’s honesty, but added: “The purpose of giving a statement is that she should give all of it.”
The judge said the gardai were entitled to stand on the street for “whatever operation they wished, without being approached and questioned about sex”.
He said he was satisfied from the evidence of the gardai that they were solicited by both men, neither of whom had any previous convictions.
Both men were convicted of the offence and fined €250, with eight weeks to pay the fine.