Subscriber OnlyCrime & LawAnalysis

Lost pump-action shotgun underlines serious damage to Garda caused by security lapses

Punishment for Garda who loaned bicycle to elderly man drew criticism, but storage issues for seized items can have greater consequences

The disappearance of a pump-action shotgun from Garda stores represents a serious security breach. The gun was seized in 2009, then lost by the Garda until it was seized again last year. It should have been secure in the force’s property and exhibit management system (PEMS) since it was first seized in 2009. But, somehow, it made its way back into criminals’ hands.

The PEMS system is a series of stores spread across the country where evidence, stolen and recovered items are processed and admitted into the system. Each item is given a unique barcode and is linked by electronic records to particular investigations.

If a Garda member is reviewing hard copy or electronic documents relating to an investigation, a list of all the physical evidence related to that case should be in those records. And if all of those items have been admitted into PEMS, and properly stored, they will be readily available.

The PEMS system also ensures consistency in chain of evidence. As a result, when evidence is linked to a suspect, to solve a crime or prosecute a case in court, gardaí can provide irrefutable proof the item is related to the case in question, rather than a similar or identical gun, for example, linked to another investigation. Reliable chain of evidence records can also prove the item in question has never been lost or tampered with.


A watertight PEMS system helps gardaí reach the standard of proof required to prosecute suspects for a whole range of offences; from minor crimes up to offences like rape and murder.

Because the security of evidence – drugs, cash, firearms, among others – is crucial to police work, the loss of a gun from the PEMS system is very serious. It could lead to an erosion of confidence in the system, indeed in the Garda, and future PEMS-dependent evidence may be questioned in court by defence teams.

In the case of the pump-action shotgun, a criminal investigation is under way to establish if any Garda member took the gun for sale or supply to a third party. It is also theoretically possible the gun was lost through the bungling keeping of records and movement of PEMS items, though exactly how that could happen was unclear.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has used Section 41 of the Garda Síochána Act to send a report about the gun to the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and to the Policing Authority. That provision empowers the commissioner to report up the line any event or incident that is so serious it may erode public confidence in policing.

It is the second Section 41 report drawn by Mr Harris in recent weeks. The first related to a recent case in which a bicycle entered into the PEMS system was taken by a Garda member, without advance permission, and loaned to a local man in the Midlands in 2020.

The length of time that garda was suspended for, before being cleared after four years of allegations made against him, resulted in serious criticism of senior Garda management, including Mr Harris. However, while a shotgun is a lethal weapon and the bike was intended to keep an elderly man active, both highlight the porous nature of the PEMS system if rules are not followed fully all of the time.