Garda ‘needs more powers’ in online child sex cases

Man who shared photographs with jailed abuser Matthew Horan being investigated

Grainia Long, chief executive of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children  described the case as “shocking” and said of particular note was Matthew Horan’s “ease of access to other adults who were prepared to collude in sharing images of the children”. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Grainia Long, chief executive of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children described the case as “shocking” and said of particular note was Matthew Horan’s “ease of access to other adults who were prepared to collude in sharing images of the children”. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

Calls have been made for additional Garda powers to investigate online child sex offences, including powers to make it easier for gardaí to seize mobile phones and devices from suspects, following the sentencing of a Dublin man to 9½ years for coercing young girls to send him sexually graphic pictures and videos.

Matthew Horan (26), of St John’s Crescent, Clondalkin, was also convicted of possessing thousands of child pornography images.

He had used Skype, Snapchat, Instagram and Kik, an anonymous instant messaging application, to send and receive child porn images from six identified child users in Ireland and nine unknown users around the world.

Gardaí are investigating a second man who was not identified in the case but who, the court heard, had been in contact with Horan via a Skype address in Dublin to discuss their mutual attraction to young girls.

The court heard the man had sent photos of his daughter, which gardaí now had in their possession.

Horan’s conviction and sentencing prompted calls for parents to be vigilant about their children’s online activity.

Grainia Long, chief executive of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) described the case as “shocking” and called for more powers for gardaí to investigate suspected child abusers.

‘Sharing images’

Ms Long said that of particular note was Horan’s “ease of access to other adults who were prepared to collude in sharing images of the children”.

She said more extensive powers were required for gardaí of the kind recommended by Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Dr Geoffrey Shannon in his most recent report last month.

While declining to comment on the Horan case in particular on Friday, Dr Shannon pointed to the recommendations in his report on strengthening the law to keep pace with technological change.

“The mobile phone is like a crime scene,” he said. “Yet powers that we have to seize one are very limited. It’s really a case of the law catching up with technology.”

He recommended the introduction of further Garda powers, similar to those under the Misuse of Drugs Act which allows for search warrants based on reasonable intelligence.

His report also said gardaí should have access to “production orders” for material held by Irish-based companies such as Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Adobe and Microsoft, similar to laws brought in to investigate financial institutions.

“It seems anomalous,” the report stated, “that powers introduced to deal with the banking crisis should not be available to protect vulnerable children.”

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten said he would raise the need to appoint a Digital Safety Commissioner with his Cabinet colleagues next week.

However, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the Horan case was a shocking indictment of the “slow response to the threat on behalf of the Irish State”.

Mr Martin said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had engaged in “dithering and mixed signals” on internet safety.

“We have already made it clear that we will be using our influence in the Dáil to insist on the immediate appointment of a digital safety commissioner,” he added, stressing the dangers facing children needed to be met with urgency by the Government.