‘Not listening’ and ‘poor advice’: Details of mishandled 999 calls to gardaí revealed in independent report

Call takers in particular cases found to be ‘impatient, interrupting the caller unnecessarily or providing poor advice’

An independent report into Garda mishandling of 999 calls has identified several incidents where it was not possible to carry out a follow-up investigation or identify the victims or perpetrators of potential incidents of serious sexual assault. The report, published on Thursday, included the following cases:

‘Serious sexual crime’

One member of the public called the Garda emergency line saying that they were witnessing what they believed to be a “serious sexual crime in progress”.

“As the caller was not kept on the line, they could not provide potentially valuable information to the Gardaí attending,” the independent report into the 999 calls controversy states.

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“Nor could they be recontacted to provide further information when the Gardaí attending the call were unable to locate the scene of the potential crime or victim.”

The report concludes that it was “feasible” that a serious sexual crime was committed and the victim never came forward and there was no way of identifying a victim or if a crime had occurred.

‘Child reporting assault’

A confidential third-party reporting service relayed real-time information from a child reporting an ongoing serious sexual assault on the parent.

It transpired that the service provided an incorrect address and because the call was not kept open by the service and the third-party call taker was not asked to keep the child on the line until Gardaí attended the scene, they could not re-establish contact or check the information.

It was concluded that, notwithstanding that this may have been a bogus call, the seriousness of the allegations and the potential vulnerability of the child and parent should have ensured that this call was “not cancelled but instead passed for urgent investigation”. It was not possible to identify a victim, their parent or possible perpetrator.

‘Vulnerable teenager’

A parent reported that their teenager had overdosed and ran out of the house after disclosing underage sexual contact with a named adult.

When the parent called back advising that an ambulance had arrived and the teenager had been safely located, the parent was advised to report the sexual contact to their local station.

The report found that given the seriousness of the sexual allegations, the vulnerability of the teenager and possible risk by a potential offender, this incident should have been followed up.

‘Interrupting callers and poor advice’

In other incidents where the investigator, former British senior police officer Derek Penman, listened back to calls, he found call taking and the Garda response falling short of standards expected in incidents outside those considered “serious”.

He found that where the call taker’s etiquette was poor, impolite, unhelpful or unprofessional, this was typically due to the call taker being “impatient, interrupting the caller unnecessarily, failing to ask sufficient follow-up questions or providing poor advice”.

Mr Penman identified incidents where call takers “did not demonstrate sufficient skills or take sufficient time to properly assess the vulnerability of callers, particularly where communication was difficult due to language barriers, impairment, intoxication, medical condition or age”.

‘Lack of empathy’

In one incident, a 999 call taker handled a call from a parent with children reporting a domestic violence and sexual assault “in an abrupt and non-empathetic manner”.

“The call taker did not seek any information to assess the vulnerability or safety of the caller or her children,” said the report.

“Although this call was hindered by language difficulties, the call taker made no effort to mitigate these difficulties.”

‘No attempt to link calls’

The sample of call recordings included several calls made by the same distressed person to the same control room on the same evening. The calls were handled by different call takers, recorded as separate incidents and resulted in different responses.

“While this may have been a frequent caller to the control room with known vulnerabilities, there did not appear to be any attempt to link these calls, assess vulnerability or provide a service,” the report states.

‘Talking over children’

In calls from children, the report found poor practice where call takers were abrupt and talking over children. One hang-up call involved a child who was handled by a call taker who was abrupt in manner in asking for the child’s name and who did not ask for the child’s location before the child ended the call.

“While this may have been a nuisance call, the call taker made no attempt to call back on the number used to make the call and check on the vulnerability or welfare of the child,” the report says.

‘Not listening’

In one incident, a person reporting an assault was not properly recorded as a possible domestic violence and sexual assault incident, despite the caller identifying the partner as the perpetrator.

“The call-taker appeared not to listen and came across as rude, impatient and lacking empathy,” said the report.

“The caller was required to repeat themselves, even though they had provided the information clearly.”

‘No risk assessment’

On another call, the Garda made no attempt to assess the risk or vulnerability of a caller in a case that should have been considered a possible incident of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The caller appeared distressed and reported that their partner had stolen property from them.

The report found that the call-taker did not capture any of the details about the partner, the alleged theft or unwillingness on the part of the caller for gardaí to be called out to their home.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent