Gerard Hutch’s recent acquittal for the murder of David Byrne in the Regency Hotel in Dublin in 2016 was followed by an unexpected development last week.
A senior investigator at the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) – the agency that investigates gardaí – revealed to colleagues he had been at a party with Hutch. He was among those who gathered last Monday week, just hours after the man known as The Monk’s acquittal. The event marked Hutch’s homecoming after 20 months in prison awaiting trial.
The scale of the error of judgment on the part of the Gsoc investigator appears hard to fathom. The following day, the investigator told colleagues where he had been the previous night.
His colleagues did not share his seemingly relaxed attitude to mixing with Hutch. They were very concerned at what he had revealed and raised the matter with senior officials. An internal process commenced immediately. The investigator, a foreign national in his 60s, was informed an inquiry was under way. He was to be suspended pending the outcome of that investigation and his phone would be taken for examination. The investigator resigned.
No public comment was made about the matter. However, news of the incident emerged on the Irish Mirror’s website on Friday, April 21st. Gsoc initially told the media it could not comment on a human resources matter. But soon it confirmed that, days earlier, it “became aware of a potential conflict of interest involving a staff member”. It added it had commenced an investigation, that the staff member had resigned and said it had no further comment.
Minister for Justice Simon Harris requested a report from Gsoc, which he received on Monday evening. Gsoc also referred the matter to the Garda for examination. The National Bureau of Criminal investigation (NBCI), the Garda’s serious crimes squad, began to determine if a full criminal investigation was required.
There was heightened concern around the former Gsoc investigator’s attendance at the party, especially as he had worked on the Gsoc inquiry into the 2019 death by suicide of Supt Colm Fox, who led the Garda’s investigation into the Regency Hotel attack
There was heightened concern about the former Gsoc investigator’s attendance at the party, especially as he had worked on the Gsoc inquiry into the 2019 death by suicide of Supt Colm Fox, who led the Garda’s investigation into the Regency Hotel attack. As a result, the investigator had access to information about the Garda’s ongoing Regency inquiry. He also had access, as part of his job, to the Garda’s Pulse database, which contains intelligence about criminals and other secret and sensitive information about ongoing and historical Garda inquiries.
The NBCI inquiry into the investigator’s attendance at the Hutch party has since developed into a criminal investigation. The Garda investigation is trying to establish if the man knew members of the Hutch family for a much longer period of time, rather than his attendance at the party being his introduction to them.
A house was searched and a man arrested by NBCI detectives in Dublin on Thursday morning. That man was detained for questioning about a possible breach of section 81 of the Garda Síochána Act, which prohibits the release of information by members or officers of Gsoc or doing anything that might interfere with Gsoc’s work.
The arrest on Thursday morning marked the first ever Garda investigation into Gsoc or any of its staff, or former staff, in its 16-year history. On Friday morning, gardaí said the man had been released without charge from the provisions of section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1984.
A file will now be prepared for the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The Gsoc investigator has been living of late in a house in Clontarf, a largely middle-class suburb in north Dublin. One of the Hutch family’s homes is close by. It was to that house Gerard Hutch returned last Monday week after he walked free from the Special Criminal Court. Sources have said a gathering was held at that property that evening, with family members, friends and some neighbours attending.
Members of the Hutch family who have lived at the house are well-liked in the area and have no involvement in crime.
At some point last Monday week, the Gsoc investigator was among the neighbours who called to the Hutch house. He made no effort to conceal it and, indeed, informed colleagues almost immediately when he had the chance.
The investigator worked as a police officer in another common law jurisdiction for a very long time. However, when he reached an age that many Garda members would retire, he took on another position in his home country. That posting was effectively an oversight role – much like the work of Gsoc – in the criminal justice system.
Given that background, he was a high-value hire for Gsoc less than five years ago. A number of sources spoke to The Irish Times this week about meeting the man as he carried out investigations into Garda members in Ireland.
“He’d put you at ease; he came across as a nice guy,” says one source, noting that the man did not appear to approach every inquiry as if it was a very grave matter. “Sometimes there’s no truth in an allegation people make [to Gsoc]. And he wasn’t one for ramping up something like that.”
Another source agreed, saying he was “courteous and friendly”. That source added: “When I heard his name mentioned [as the investigator at the centre of the Hutch house party inquiry] and that he resigned, my first thought would be that he’d want to resign and not cause Gsoc problems. I thought he’d want to go before he became a problem for them. He struck me as that kind of person.”
When Minister for Justice Simon Harris faced the media at the Garda Representative Association (GRA) annual conference in Westport, Co Mayo, this week, the questions put to him by journalists reflected some concerns about Gsoc that this case has brought into focus.
Simon Harris was unable to say if Gsoc had been compromised or if any information held by it had been shared with the Hutches, saying the Garda investigation would examine such matters
Harris was forced to deny a suggestion Gsoc was something of a “retirement home” for police officers from other countries. Other questioners suggested that retired police officers were coming to Ireland to work as Gsoc investigators with no knowledge of the Republic’s crime scene, yet they had all the powers of gardaí. (This includes the power to arrest and question gardaí and recommend to the DPP they be prosecuted for crimes.)
Harris said very experienced former police officers had the skill set required for the investigations Gsoc carried out and that they underwent the same vetting as Garda recruits. But he was unable to say if Gsoc had been compromised or if any information held by it had been shared with the Hutches, saying the Garda investigation would examine such matters.
Garda members have long complained there is no appeal mechanism to the outcome of Gsoc investigations into them, and no oversight of the Garda ombudsman. Harris maintained that nobody was above the law, as evidenced by the Garda inquiry into the Gsoc investigator.
Gsoc – along with the Garda Inspectorate – was formed under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which was drafted and enacted after the first findings of the Morris tribunal, into allegations of Garda corruption in the force’s Donegal division. Gsoc was charged with taking complaints about gardaí from members of the public and investigating them. These can range from complaints of discourtesy and other minor disciplinary matters to serious crimes on the part of gardaí, including corruption and physical and sexual assaults.
In cases where Garda members are accused of crimes, Gsoc can carry out a criminal inquiry, send a file to the DPP and then give evidence in court. Gsoc can also conduct public interest inquiries into matters of concern relating to the force, and does not need a complaint to commence such an investigation.
Gsoc is also obliged, under law, to investigate any incident where injury or death – to a Garda member or a member of the public – results from police work.
According to its annual report of 2021, Gsoc received 2,189 complaints that year, containing 3,760 allegations. It forwarded 21 files to the DPP at the conclusion of criminal investigations into Garda members. It closed 2,078 complaints in 2021. During that year some 60 sanctions were imposed by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on foot of recommendations by Gsoc after investigating those gardaí and finding they were guilty of wrongdoing. Gsoc had 123 staff that year and a budget of €11.3 million.
The Garda watchdog is headed by a three-person commission: Judge Rory McCabe as chairman, and Emily Logan and Hugh Hume as commissioners. Logan is former ombudsman for children while Hume is a former PSNI senior officer and former deputy chief inspector of the Garda Inspectorate.
The Garda and Gsoc have often had an uneasy relationship. Many Garda members say there is a stigma involved if they are placed under investigation by the Garda watchdog body, yet many complaints are not upheld
Of its 123 staff, almost half – 57 – work as investigators. Gsoc’s senior investigations officers earn €73,000-€91,000 while its investigations officers earn €53,000-€67,000. Assistant investigations officers are paid €33,000-€55,000. The man at the centre of the Hutch house party investigation was a senior investigations officer.
In reply to queries from The Irish Times, Gsoc said some of its investigators joined the agency having worked in other investigative agencies at home, including the Garda, and abroad. Others joined Gsoc in non-investigative roles and progressed to the investigative side. It added a broad range of courses was offered to personnel, including investigative interviewing techniques, critical incident management, computer and phone forensics, child protection, policing and human rights law in Ireland, managing covert operations and domestic violence.
Gsoc was unable to offer a breakdown of the nationalities of its investigators, but said they were from various professional backgrounds. This includes: former gardaí and Defence Forces members; former police and military officers from other jurisdictions; people with policing oversight experience in other jurisdictions; people with other non-policing and non-military oversight, investigation and regulatory experience; and career civil servants.
The Garda and Gsoc have often had an uneasy relationship. Many Garda members say there is a stigma involved if they are placed under investigation by the Garda watchdog body, yet many complaints are not upheld.
“These [Gsoc] investigations can drag on for years and you have no information [for long periods] about what’s going on,” one says. “I know colleagues who got really stressed when they didn’t even know what the allegation was, and who it was coming from. And that can go on for such a long time.”
Another source says that when Garda members are interviewed by Gsoc investigators, sometimes after a considerable time since the initial complaint – it causes further concern. They say they can often glean from the interview that basic investigative work, which they believe would exonerate them, has not been completed.
“Things like talking to witnesses, maybe some of their [Garda] colleagues, and viewing CCTV evidence. It’s very disheartening when that’s not done, even after this has been hanging over you for a long time.”
One Garda member concedes there was “more than a bit of glee” within some elements of the force at witnessing Gsoc under pressure this week. He also believes Gsoc has brought some Garda members before the courts down the years and failed to secure convictions because Gsoc investigations have fallen short.
Another very experienced Garda investigator says the Hutch party case confirms some of his concerns, especially around Gsoc having been granted access to Pulse almost a decade ago. “You have a group of people coming in from abroad to work [as investigators] for Gsoc and they have no experience of Ireland, they don’t know our crime scene and they don’t know our policing culture,” he says. “They’re a transient group. They’ve no connection to Ireland. They’ll be here for a while and then they’re gone and you’ve giving them access to things like Pulse. I was concerned about that at the time, and now here we are.”