Expert investigating cancelled 999 calls not able to examine recordings

Reviewer told ‘legal issues’ prevent him listening to emergency calls

An independent expert assigned to review the Garda’s handling of the cancelled 999 calls controversy has not been able to listen to recordings of cancelled calls due to “legal issues”.

In his interim report for the Policing Authority, Derek Penman, the former assistant chief constable of Police Scotland, said independent access to these recordings is "essential" for providing assurance about the Garda's ongoing response to the issue.

The terms of reference establishing his review envisaged that access would be granted to the call recordings, Mr Penman said.

“Due to legal issues, access has not yet been provided and therefore it has not been possible to check if call takers entered calls accurately, nor confirm if critical procedures were followed.”


He said legal advice on accessing the calls is currently being jointly sought by the Policing Authority and the Garda.

Mr Penman's report, which is due to be discussed at a live-streamed meeting between the Policing Authority and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris later today, detailed concerns about weak supervision of the cancellation of emergency calls.

Garda’s review

He said the Garda’s review of the issue has identified a case where calls takers were requested to “cancel” incidents by a garda who had physically responded to a call.

This resulted in no Pulse record being created on the Garda computer system and potentially, no follow-up inquires being made.

In other cases, information provided by callers was not accurately recorded, meaning gardaí were dispatched to the wrong address and callers could not be recontacted. Some of these callers could not be identified during the subsequent Garda review, Mr Penman said.

The problems cannot be blamed on training or on the emergency calls computer system, he said.

During its review, the Garda identified 203,000 cancelled calls during a 22-month period from January 2019.

Only 23,361 calls, comprising the most serious incidents, have so far been reviewed. Mr Penman said this prioritisation made sense given the large volume of calls. However he raised concerns that some serious incidents may have been incorrectly categorised as less serious, meaning they fell outside the scope of the initial review.

He praised several aspects of the Garda review which he said was a “reasonable and proportionate response” to the issue and said he received good co-operation from gardaí during his own evaluation.

However, Mr Penman also raised serious concerns about oversight procedures in control rooms which allowed the cancellation of calls to go unnoticed in the first place.

“Policies and procedures were in place that should have identified unwarranted cancelled incidents,” Mr Penman said.

“This would suggest that supervision, quality assurance checks and procedures for the performance management of individuals within regional control rooms and local stations were either not followed or not effective.”

Levels of supervision

In September, it was disclosed that emergency calls were still being improperly cancelled, even after measures were put in place to stop this. Mr Penman said this suggests the current levels of supervision in control rooms is weak. This represents a “serious risk” to the Garda, he said.

Part of the Garda response to the cancelled calls involved contacting victims who may have been impacted, particularly victims of domestic violence. More than 800 victims have since been contacted by telephone and gardaí have met another 431 face-to-face.

“The victim engagement has now concluded, with only very few victims remaining who cannot be traced or contacted for legitimate reasons,” Mr Penman said.

Mr Penman said the “aging” computer system used for handling emergency calls, which dates to 1987, is a result of “chronic” under-investment but that it is not to blame for the cancelled calls.

Additionally, the problem cannot be attributed to training he said. Staff are trained that they can only cancel calls in very specific circumstances and that calls relating to domestic violence should never be cancelled.

Mr Penman also raised concerns that emergency calls made to local Garda stations are not being recorded. About 25 per cent of calls to gardaí are made to local stations, some of which may be emergency calls, he said.

“The absence of call recording at local stations is a serious vulnerability,” he said.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times