Ombudsman rejects gardaí 'heavy-handed' claims


THE GARDA Síochána Ombudsman Commission has rejected allegations by a group representing almost 12,000 gardaí that it behaved in an “excessive and oppressive” manner when gathering evidence in the case of a garda who was charged with assault.

The ombudsman, which investigates complaints against gardaí, also rejected suggestions by the Garda Representative Association (GRA) that its agents had exceeded their powers when investigating the case.

GRA president Damien McCarthy said his association had formally complained to Minister for Justice Brendan Smith and had requested a member of the judiciary be appointed to independently investigate its complaints.

According to informed sources, this request has already been rejected.

The Irish Times understands the department yesterday asked the GRA to hold talks with the ombudsman in an effort to resolve the matter, saying judicial inquiries represented a last resort and would be opened only in cases involving a miscarriage of justice.

According to sources, the GRA will today contact Mr Smith to personally make the case to him for a judicial inquiry.

It is the first time since the ombudsman began operating in 2007 that any of the Garda associations has requested a judicial inquiry into the commission.

The GRA issued a strongly worded statement on Monday attacking the ombudsman after a garda was acquitted of assault.

The ombudsman yesterday issued a statement rejecting the allegations.

The public exchange represents a deterioration in the sometimes uneasy relationship between the ombudsman and the GRA.

The matter centres on the case of Garda Brendan Whitty (33) of Kevin Street Garda station. He had pleaded not guilty to assault causing harm to Keith Murphy on Thomas Street, Dublin, on September 20th, 2007.

Garda Whitty used his baton to strike Mr Murphy during a dispute in which Mr Murphy became aggressive and resisted arrest for a public order matter.

Garda Whitty arrested Mr Murphy and took him to Kevin Street Garda station. Hours after being released from the station, he died of a drugs overdose.

The trial heard that the incident in which Garda Whitty struck Mr Murphy had in no way contributed to his death. Garda Whitty told the trial he had used appropriate force to subdue Mr Murphy when he became aggressive and lunged at him after he had intervened in a row between him and another man.

Last week an issue emerged over evidence in the case that proved the deceased, Keith Murphy, was the same Keith Murphy who had been arrested by Garda Whitty.

Staff working for the ombudsman commission were told by Judge Desmond Hogan to gather evidence to prove the arrested Keith Murphy and the man named Keith Murphy who later died were the same man.

Ombudsman investigators attempted to contact a number of gardaí in an effort to gather the identification evidence.

One garda had taken exception to messages left on his mobile phone by investigators working for the commission.

The Irish Times understands one voice message pointed out that failure to respond to the ombudsman’s calls could be construed as a failure to co-operate with an investigation, which could have legal implications.

The identification evidence was eventually gathered and the case was able to proceed the next morning.

The ombudsman commission statement yesterday rejecting the GRA claims of heavy-handedness, confirmed it had sought the co-operation of Garda witnesses in the case. It said it would expect co-operation from Garda witnesses to be forthcoming and if it was not, it had the powers of the Garda Síochána Act to rely on.

The GRA said its members had always co-operated with the ombudsman and had co-operated on the case in question.