27 Jun 2022

Man disputes accusation that he held phone while driving

Roads Policing: Garda says he is ‘100% sure’ he saw man holding mobile phone to his ear while driving

Man disputes accusation that he held phone while driving

A man disputing a charge of driving while holding a mobile phone is to reappear at Longford District Court on June 22, where he will produce a phone bill in an effort to prove that he was not using his phone when observed by a member of the Roads Policing Unit in Granard last year.

Pat Donnelly, Barrack Street, Granard, was pulled over by Gda Aidan Lenehan last March.

“On March 31, 2020, at 9.55am on Barrack Street, I saw a jeep and observed the driver holding a black mobile phone. He was holding it with his left hand, across his face to his right ear,” Gda Lenehan told the court last week.

“I’m 100% certain I saw it. I pulled him over and he denied it. He’d gotten out when I pulled him over and the two of us knew he was on a mobile phone but he denied it. I know he tried to appeal it but I don’t pull somebody over on 95%. I have to be 100% certain before I pull someone over.”

Solicitor for the defence, Ms Fiona Baxter, disputed the charge, saying it “just isn’t true” and pointing out that her client had asked Gda Lenehan to look at his mobile phone records as proof that the phone had not been in use at the time.

“We don’t do that and if we did, they could have two phones in the car,” Gda Lenehan replied.

“Do you have to be using the phone to commit the offence or can you be holding it? There’s no necessity in legislation to use the phone is there?” asked Sgt Mark Mahon, for the state.

“No, you just have to be holding it,” Gda Lenehan confirmed.

Ms Baxter called Mr Donnelly to give evidence and he told the court that he had not been using the phone when he passed Gda Lenehan, who he said was parked on the side of the road.

“I had just been to Supervalu to collect food for my mother who was cocooning at home,” he explained.

“I put my phone on the seat and it connected to bluetooth, so I don’t need to hold the phone. I met no squad car. He was parked on the side of the road. I was going to the pharmacy to collect medicine for my mother and I noticed Gda Lenehan had stopped.

“Gda Lenehan said I was on the phone and he had a witness to say he’d seen me. He said I’d get a ticket in the post and I did.

“I went down to Superintendent Boyle that morning and I had downloaded my phone records to show what calls were made. I had to go to the Barracks anyway to bring my licence. I offered my phone records to the superintendent but he didn’t take it. I offered it to Gda Lenehan at the scene but it’s understandable he didn’t want to handle the phone.

“The records show I called my mother and spoke to her for 16 minutes until 9.36am. I made a call at 9.37 but it was cancelled. Gda Lenehan stopped me at 9.56am.”

Mr Donnelly went on to say that he drives professionally and owns a fleet of busses in Granard.

“We have 12 drivers who are forbidden from using the phone while driving the bus, unless they have a bluetooth earpiece. At that time, we were in lockdown, so there was no business,” he said.

“I see bus drivers the whole time. I know a man like yourself who has busses and taxis and he lives on his mobile phone for business. In normal times, you live on your phone,” said Judge Seamus Hughes.

“We probably do a lot of business on it, yes,” Mr Donnelly replied.

“What about Gda Lenehan’s description of you holding the phone across your face? Why would he give such a description if you weren’t using it?” asked Judge Hughes.

“I don’t know but it was sitting on the seat. I wouldn’t do that. It wasn’t in use,” said Mr Donnelly.

Sgt Mahon noted that Gda Lenehen “didn’t say he was 90% sure; he didn’t say he was 98% sure; he said he was 100% certain he saw him holding a mobile phone”.

“He thinks I was parked on the side of the road. I was actually in traffic. I was in a lit up car. If he didn’t see a marked patrol car, that’s a concern. He thought I was parked up and I was actually driving on the opposite side of the road,” Gda Lenehan added.

At that point, Judge Hughes requested the phone records, which Mr Donnelly had brought into court, printed out on several sheets of paper. Judge Hughes examined those and noted a call to Mr Donnelly’s mother at 9.20am, which lasted for 16 minutes. Another call was made at 9.37am but was cancelled.

“I produced my notebook at 9.55am. I would have stopped him before then,” said Gda Lenehan.

When Judge Hughes asked for details of further calls made on March 31, Mr Donnelly was unable to provide them.

Meanwhile, Sgt Mahon and Gda Lenehan were examining a phone bill which listed all the calls made from Mr Donnelly’s phone during that billing period.

“I'm not trying to catch anybody out but by looking at the bill, there’s a number of calls there. There’s times for calls for the 31st but it doesn’t have the times for those calls,” said Sgt Mahon, referring to the calls made at 9.20am and 9.37am.

“There’s a page of this bill missing - page two,” he added.

“So we have two aspects already,” said Judge Hughes, “he was to retrieve further calls for me, which he failed to do. And the sergeant has questioned something you couldn’t answer. If we could get page two of his phone bill, that would help.”

“I still want to proceed with the prosecution but if he wants time, that’s fine,” said Sgt Mahon.

Ms Baxter said she and her client would like time to produce the phone bill in its entirety and the case has been adjourned to June 22, 2021.

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