Garda criticised over abuse cases

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03 February 2012

CONOR LALLY, Crime Correspondent

The Garda Inspectorate has identified significant shortcomings in the force’s investigation of sexual offences against children.

It said basic record-keeping was so poor that the official crime figures did not capture up to 65 per cent of sex crimes against children reported to the Garda in recent years.

The situation had only become apparent after the Garda was unable to supply the inspectorate with annual figures for sexual offences against children.

The inspectorate requested paperwork to be checked in all 112 Garda districts. The disparity that emerged between the paper records and the Garda computer database of crime rates called into question the integrity of all child abuse figures, it said.

In almost one-third of cases, details of investigations had been entered into the Garda’s Pulse computer database, but had not been classified as criminal offences and so were missing from the overall crime figures.

Guidelines for inputting crimes were not being followed and in one incident three cases involving nine injured parties had been entered as a single offence.

The inspectorate said while its latest report had only studied crime figures on child sex abuse, it would later review how the Garda recorded all crime types.

On the substantive issue of the Garda’s investigation of child sex abuse, the inspectorate noted “turf issues” – or a turf war – between the Health Service Executive and the Garda. This meant allegations of abuse were not being investigated quickly enough, which was compromising child safety.

Joint action sheets were supposed to be drawn up in all child sexual abuse cases involving the HSE and the Garda so that those involved knew what aspects of an investigation they were responsible for, the inspectorate pointed out.

In a sample of cases in Dublin, the plans had been completed in just 1 per cent of cases.

The inspectorate recommended a much greater degree of specialisation within the Garda in its approach to investigating the sexual abuse of children.

These specialists should include detectives trained to interview child victims. This should never be left to front-line uniformed gardaí, it said.

It called for the appointment of a Garda assistant commissioner with special responsibility for child protection.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said the inspectorate’s report had been submitted to the government in late 2010 but legal constraints had prevented its publication.

In the intervening period the State had moved to address the issues raised in the report. “While the inspectorate identified deficiencies at the time of its inspection, it also acknowledges that the Garda Síochána is addressing the issue of child sexual abuse as a top priority and that progress has been made in recent years,” he said.

The inspectorate’s report, Responding to Child Sexual Abuse, was commissioned in 2009 by then minister for justice Dermot Ahern. It was to examine the Garda’s approach to child sex abuse, particularly in the wake of the Murphy commission’s report into the archdiocese of Dublin, which criticised the Garda.

The inspectorate, which advises the Garda and government on policing policy, said there appeared to be reluctance on the part of the HSE to call gardaí in to investigate allegations until after children had undergone therapy. This undermined subsequent prosecutions because an accused could question the integrity of evidence that emerged in therapy.

The lack of more meaningful co-operation between the HSE and Garda was disappointing, particularly in light of the Garda’s excellent relations with other agencies.

The inspectorate also implied the Garda was still too deferential in its approach to investigating cases of clerical child sexual abuse. If gardaí were being frustrated in their efforts to obtain church records they needed to apply for search warrants in the way they would during other criminal probes, it said. “It is not an acceptable option for the Garda Síochána to do nothing,” the report says. The inspectorate notes most investigations into child sex abuse should take only three months.

What the report says

Delays in the recording of reports of child sexual offences result in intelligence gaps. Failure to make timely entries on PULSE (the Garda’s computerised central database) exposes children to continuing risk

Any reasonable analysis of the….. evidence of the failures to implement the Children First protocol between the Garda and HSE would have to conclude that there is a serious problem requiring urgent action to resolve it

Garda investigation files were found not to contain all the papers relevant to the investigation. Some case files consisted of loose papers enclosed in an official cover. The papers were not … in either chronological or other order


A failure to protect

03 February 2012

A REPORT by the Garda Inspectorate into consistent failures by members of the force to properly investigate, record and prosecute cases of child sex abuse makes for disturbing reading. An excessively deferential approach and a reluctance to apply for search warrants to secure church records are suggested as contributory factors. It sounds familiar. Hasn’t that kind of weak-kneed reaction to potentially illegal or criminal actions by senior church, business, banking and political individuals been tolerated for decades?

It is important to realise that this investigation was ordered in the aftermath of the Murphy report concerning clerical sex abuse in the Dublin archdiocese and it deals with criticisms of the Garda Síochána from 2009. The report was delivered in 2010, as public anger over denials and cover-ups by the Catholic hierarchy overflowed and a fresh investigation was launched in the Cloyne diocese. In the circumstances, withholding the document to avoid the Garda being caught up in public condemnations was understandable. The official reason given for the delay was “legal constraints”.

Poor management, indiscipline and inadequate Garda record-keeping has come under scrutiny in recent years. The Morris tribunal, which investigated corruption in Donegal, recommended the establishment of a Garda Inspectorate to review professional standards and to promote best international practice. In this case, it found that record-keeping was so poor that up to 65 per cent of sex crimes against children were not officially noted. Many were not recorded as criminal offences. And a poor level of co-operation existed between the Garda and the Health Service Executive in responding to abuse cases.

Public bodies and successive governments have failed to protect and uphold the rights of children and vulnerable individuals. Months before the Murphy report generated public anger and consternation, the Ryan report into similar abuses within religious-run institutions found that, by their silence and inactivity, State agencies had colluded in the physical and sexual abuse of children. Given such unambiguous condemnation of official laxity, it became necessary to implement recommendations from the Garda Inspectorate report before releasing the document.

The good news is that many of the proposed reforms have been put in place, including a change of policy that allows sex abuse complaints through a third party to be investigated. Gardaí have been specially trained to interview children and Garda authorities have made it clear that deference to the church has no place in criminal investigations. These are positive developments that will enhance public confidence and address any suggestion that canon law should take precedence over State authority. Traditional mind-sets and public attitudes are changing towards those in authority. The law is designed to uphold civilised standards and to punish transgressors. For a democracy to function effectively, the rules must apply to everyone, without exception.

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