Detective loses bid to halt disciplinary inquiry

Investigation was ordered into Catherine McGowan’s handling of abuse allegation

 Det Garda Catherine McGowan was acquitted of forging a letter from the Director of Public Prosecutions in a  criminal trial. File photograph: Court Collins

Det Garda Catherine McGowan was acquitted of forging a letter from the Director of Public Prosecutions in a criminal trial. File photograph: Court Collins

 

A detective garda acquitted of forging a letter from the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to the investigation of an allegation of sexual abuse against a priest has lost her appeal aimed at halting a disciplinary inquiry.

A three-judge Court of Appeal upheld a High Court decision rejecting claims by Det Garda Catherine McGowan, attached to Bray Garda station, she should not be subject to a disciplinary inquiry as she was acquitted in a criminal process in 2015.

Court president Mr Justice George Birmingham said the alleged disciplinary breaches could be regarded as a serious failure to discharge the duties of a garda and it was “entirely understandable” there would be a wish to inquire into these “matters of substance”.

Outlining the background, he said the matter dated back to 2005 when a complaint was made by a woman to the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin alleging she was sexually abused in the 1980s by a priest. The archdiocese notified the complaint to gardaí and it was passed to Bray district for investigation. The woman then withdrew the complaint but renewed it in 2007.

Det Garda McGowan was assigned to investigate it and her alleged failure to do so was the subject matter of the disciplinary inquiry, ordered by the Garda Commissioner in June 2015. Separately, a criminal investigation was commenced which ultimately led to Det Garda McGowan being charged and acquitted, by unanimous verdict by a Circuit Criminal Court jury.

She was acquitted of one count of forgery on January 15th, 2009, at Bray Garda station and two counts of using a false instrument at Bray Garda station and at Harcourt Street Garda station between June 21st and 22nd, 2011. The instrument was alleged to have been a letter from the office of the DPP, dated January 14th, 2009, which prosecutors alleged Det Garda McGowan forged to “hoodwink” gardaí reviewing whether she acted properly in investigating the allegation of sexual abuse.

In High Court judicial review proceedings, she sought to halt the disciplinary inquiry but, in a November 2017 judgment, Mr Justice Michael White refused to do so. He disagreed the disciplinary inquiry was based on the same subject matter as her Circuit Court criminal trial and said the “serious” issues raised in the inquiry “go to the heart of responsible policing”.

Dismissing the appeal, Mr Justice Birmingham said there was a “significant” development during the appeal hearing. He said counsel for Det Garda McGowan, while insisting some of the allegations could not go before the disciplinary inquiry, had acknowledged there was a difficulty in contending other allegations – failure to create a record on Pulse and failure to engage in correspondence with relevant solicitors – could not be proceeded with before the inquiry.

He said the High Court’s assessment there were many issues within the allegations of neglect of duty and discreditable conduct that could never have been the subject of criminal allegations against Det Garda McGowan, but which could otherwise be regarded as a serious failure to discharge the duties of a garda, was “a realistic one”.

He rejected further arguments there was an obligation to provide reasons to Det Garda McGowan as to why the inquiry was being established. The reason was “obvious”, it was because the Garda Commissioner considered the inquiry would not be into the same issues in respect of which Det Garda McGowan was acquitted and it would not be unfair to commence the inquiry.

He also dismissed a cross-appeal by the defendants against the High Court’s decision allowing the applicant amend her claim to allow additional grounds be argued.