Customs tried to seize car of young healthcare worker on way to work in Donegal

Judge dismisses obstruction charges against the woman

Donegal courthouse

The woman was before Donegal District Court on a charge of obstructing officers

A judge has dismissed obstruction charges against a young healthcare worker who did not hand over her keys at a customs checkpoint.

Sinead Concarr of Doohill, Ardara was stopped at a checkpoint operated by Officers of the Revenue Commissioners at Drumlonagher, Donegal Town on December 7, 2018. She was driving a car registered outside the state at the time.

Customs officers said it was their opinion after questioning the defendant that she was living in Ardara and was driving an unregistered car. She was asked to hand over the keys but said then that she was living in Northern Ireland. 

Judge Kevin Kilrane sitting at Donegal District Court on Monday said the defendant was doing an important job and was on her way to work. 

“There could scarcely be anything more difficult for her than to be asked to hand over the keys of the car and get out onto the road in lashing conditions in December, after which she would have to find her way to work in whatever way she can,” said the judge. 

“It is an extreme action, I accept that the Revenue have their job to do. But it is not a case that she had been spoken to before. I accept that they have the law on their side but it was a difficult situation for the defendant on the date in question.”

The court heard evidence from two Revenue officers regarding the defendant being stopped and questioned. They claimed she had initially said she had been travelling from Northern Ireland to work in Killybegs, having spent the night at her boyfriend’s house. 

Officers said the defendant told them she had owned the car for a few months. 

Officers also claimed that the defendant had shown them a bill from the Western Trust in Northern Ireland to show that she was from the North. However, the bill was addressed to her in Ardara.

They said that the defendant then made several phone calls, during which time she put up her window, meaning that officers could not speak to her. She said at that stage that the car belonged to her father-in-law and that her own car had broken down. Officers said the defendant had been asked several times to hand over the keys and had not done so.

After what was described in court as a stalemate situation and the need to abandon the checkpoint due to atrocious weather conditions, the defendant was permitted to leave the scene. 

A prosecution ensued for offence of obstruction of officers carrying out their duty. It was explained in court that the offence of driving an unregistered vehicle is processed by way of penalty points, while obstruction is still dealt with by prosecution.

The court heard that the seizure of vehicle document presented to the defendant at the scene should have been endorsed and that was not done.

Defence solicitor Rory O’Brien put it to the officers that they had been determined to seize the vehicle from the outset and were aggressive in their questioning of the defendant. This was denied.

Mr O’Brien told the court that it was his client’s father-in-law who was the registered owner of the vehicle. He appealed to Judge Kilrane to consider the question of the lawfulness of the document as well as the circumstances of the attempt to seize the vehicle.

Judge Kilrane acknowledged that the customs officers had been doing their job, and that it was a difficult job. But he said the matter had to be looked at from all points of view. 

The judge said there were various levels of obstruction and this was not a case where the defendant had driven off from the scene. Nor had she previously been warned about the car.

“Taking the entire together - the absence of the the form being completed correctly and the difficult situation that prevailed at the time - I am not fully satisfied that the defendant is guilty of the offence of obstruction.”

Judge Kilrane said he would therefore dismiss the charge against the defendant. 

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