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Man given suspended sentence over RTÉ cameraman assault

A swimming coach jailed for spying on young girls as they changed their clothes, has been given an additional four-month suspended sentence for assaulting an RTÉ cameraman who filmed him leaving court.

32-year-old Matthew Coward of Shantalla Road in Santry, Dublin, pleaded guilty to assaulting cameraman, Mícheál Mac Suibhne outside the criminal courts of justice in December 2022.

Mr Mac Suibhne told the court the attack was “frightening, unnecessary and damaging” and he said camera people trying to do their job should be safe while they’re doing it.

Garda Chris Maguire told Dublin District Court that Matthew Coward was in court on 22 December 2022.

As he left the Criminal Courts of Justice and walked up Infirmary Road, Mr Mac Suibhne followed him while filming on his camera. The garda told the court that Coward “shouldered” Mr Mac Suibhne twice and was abusive to him.

Garda Maguire described it as more of a “hit” with the shoulder. Mr Mac Suibhne did not lose his footing, the court, heard but stumbled into a tree and dropped the battery of his camera.

Mr Mac Suibhne gave a victim impact statement to the court in which he said he had spent almost four decades as a cameraman and had worked in hostile environments such as Israel and South Sudan.

But he said, since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, camera crews were seen as easy targets for abuse.

He said he considered the hostility to be unfair as camera people were involved in the “purest form of TV journalism” – gathering the pictures and sound.

Mr Mac Suibhne said what happened was an attempt to push him out in front of the traffic. He said what Coward had done had frightened the life out of him and had ruined Christmas with his family.

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Coward’s solicitor, Damien Coffey said he had been instructed to apologise to Mr Mac Suibhne. He said the incident had happened during an exceptionally stressful time while he was in the full gaze of the media spotlight.

He said his client had reacted very poorly and was wrong to do so. He said he was using his time in prison productively and trying to build a better life for himself and his family.

Coward was jailed for three years in November 2023 for setting up cameras at a pool in Dublin and recording young girls over a 12-month period as they were changing into their swimsuits. He had been a swimming coach with Swim Ireland for almost four years. He is due to be released in February 2026.

Judge Michele Finan praised Mr Mac Suibhne for what she described as his “brave and eloquent” victim impact statement. She said she did not see him as a victim but as a survivor. She said she was sorry the incident happened and that it had the impact that it had.

She imposed a four month sentence on Coward to begin when his current sentence is complete, but suspended it on condition that he does not come to the adverse attention of gardaí for a period of 12 months.

Outside court, Mr Mac Suibhne said he was happy with the outcome of the proceedings. He said the camera did not lie and believed that if someone was attacking a camera, they were attacking the truth itself.

Mr Mac Suibhne added that this was not fair. “It causes damage and hurts us,” he said, “we are only humans at the end of the day, doing a job”.

He said camera people needed to be safe while they were doing that job.

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