Man who had blue lights fitted to his car was caught pretending to be a garda when he pulled over real gardaí
20th October 2021
A man who drove around impersonating a garda, with flashing blue lights fitted to his car, was caught when he pulled over real plainclothes officers on duty.
Police memorabilia collector Stephen Magee (45) turned on the lights when he saw a driver on the phone but it was an unmarked patrol car and the gardaí got out and questioned him.
He “knew the game was up” but then tried to pretend that he had trained gardaí and emergency services.
Judge John Hughes found him guilty and jailed him for three months. Magee, a haulier, was also banned from driving for a year and fined €1,000.
The accused, from Myrtle House, Coast Road, Baldoyle, denied a charge of garda impersonation, claiming he accidentally switched on the lights, never stated that he was a garda and had panicked and “blurted out” lies about training them.
He said Garda and fire brigade badges and a radio scanner that were found in his car were collected as part of his hobby.
Garda Robert Collins told Dublin District Court on April 9 last year he was a passenger in an unmarked patrol car at Grange Road, Baldoyle, and Garda Keri Harmon, the driver, took a work call on her phone.
Gda Collins noticed blue flashing lights activating on a black Renault Megane behind them. The lights were on the front grille and flashed repeatedly for about five seconds.
“I thought he was indicating for our vehicle to pull in or stop,” Gda Collins said.
The gardaí turned onto Longfield Road and pulled in, while the Megane pulled in behind.
Gda Collins got out and spoke to the accused because, he said: “I wanted to figure out was he a garda and see what the story was.”
Gda Collins produced his own badge, identified himself and asked Magee if “he was a garda”.
“He was hesitant at first, and then he said to me that he trains the ERU, the DFB and the gardaí,” Gda Collins said.
He took this to mean the Emergency Response Unit, Dublin Fire Brigade and the Gardaí.
The accused told him his name and address and said he had accidentally activated the blue light by flicking the switch with his knee.
The garda made some enquiries and Magee then confirmed that he did not actually train those whom he had claimed.
There were two other similar lights at the back of the car.
In a cursory search, Gda Collins found a garda badge, a Dublin firefighter badge, a ‘fire officer on call’ sign, RNLI stickers and a radio scanner in the car.
Magee let Gda Collins into his house and the garda found unofficial garda T-shirts, an “old school” garda hat and a sergeant’s badge.
In interview later, Magee said, on reflection, he had knocked the switch with his hand and not his knee.
Gda Collins said the switch in the Megane was “nearly the same identical position” as it would be in an unmarked garda car. He did not believe it could be switched accidentally while driving, and he had never done that.
“I believed it was the case that he was trying to frighten the driver in front who was holding her mobile phone,” Gda Collins said.
Magee had been adamant in interview that he was not impersonating a garda and admitted he had never trained the gardaí or ERU.
He said it was his mistaken belief that he was allowed to have flashing blue lights, “that he had trained or was associated with the RNLI and had been given permission by someone in Yarmouth in England to fit the lights”, Gda Collins said.
The other items he said he had bought as memorabilia on websites.
Gda Harmon said when she looked in the rear-view mirror and saw the blue lights, she believed it was an unmarked Garda car “pulling me over for being on the phone” and saw the driver make a hand gesture.
She said when Gda Collins asked the accused if he was a garda, Magee “deflected” the question by saying he trained gardaí and never actually answered it “yes or no”.
Defence solicitor Peter Connolly said the accused had never stated he was a garda and the “height of” the prosecution case was that he said he trained them.
He had been on his way home with shopping and stopped 300 metres from his house. He denied he had “pulled in” the gardaí and said any gesture was because he realised he had made a mistake in putting on the switch.
He said he did not know they were gardaí at first and he panicked and “blurted out” what he did because he thought a civilian would report him for flashing the blue lights. After this initial lie, he was “extremely compliant”.
Magee was a “foolish man” for having blue lights on his car, but this was a separate road traffic charge which had not been proffered.
The accused said he had also left the blue lights on accidentally when his car was parked outside his house in another incident and gardaí called in to advise him about running the battery down.
State solicitor Jonathan Antoniotti said turning on the flashing lights was the act of impersonation and “to any member of the public, that is a garda car pulling me in”.
“He knew the game was up, he had pulled in the wrong car,” Mr Antoniotti said.
It was “very coincidental” that in all the time he had the lights, Magee only activated them twice, and both times gardaí were present.
Magee, a father-of-one, was a normally law-abiding citizen with no prior convictions with a “great respect” for the Garda, Mr Connolly said.
Judge Hughes said the lights had been fitted to a “high standard” and a member of the public would easily assume they were official.
To impersonate a garda was to impersonate someone in a privileged position because they were bestowed with “unique powers to restrict people’s liberty”, he said.