The family of a Nigerian-born man who was shot dead outside his family home in west Dublin by gardaí last week have expressed concern at the pace of the inquiry by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) into his killing.
A statement issued on behalf of the family of George Nkencho (27) on Thursday evening said there was a real possibility that the gardaí involved in the fatal shooting could face criminal charges in relation to the incident but his relatives were concerned that statements from key witnesses had not yet been taken by GSOC investigators.
The family’s solicitor, Phelim O’Neill, said they had welcomed correspondence from GSOC which indicated the investigation into Mr Nkencho’s death had the status of a criminal investigation.
“It is now for the first time a real and distinct possibility on the conclusion of the GSOC investigation that members of An Garda Síochána will be criminally prosecuted for their actions in shooting George Nkencho to death,” Mr O’Neill said.
The solicitor said he had called on GSOC to ensure the matter would be treated as a serious criminal investigation with all the resources required being made available.
However, Mr O’Neill said he remained extremely concerned at what appeared to be “a distinct lack of urgency” by GSOC in their approach to the investigation following the killing on December 30th.
He claimed GSOC officials had been unable to specify when they would be in a position to take statements from members of Mr Nkencho’s family who were eyewitnesses to their brother’s death, even though almost nine days had passed since the incident.
“It is a well-known fact that with the passage of time memories fade and crucial details can be lost, possibly forever,” Mr O’Neill said.
He added: “The eyewitnesses have crucial evidence which both An Garda Síochána and GSOC have failed as yet to seek out and preserve.”
Mr O’Neill claimed such a delay could potentially prejudice any prosecution of the gardaí responsible for shooting Mr Nkencho.
It is understood three of Mr Nkencho’s siblings were standing in the hallway of the family home at Manorfields Drive in Clonee, Co Dublin when the fatal shots were fired.
Mr Nkencho, who suffered mental health problems, had been involved in an earlier incident at a Spar outlet in Hartstown where he attacked a shop assistant.
Members of the Garda Armed Support Unit attempted unsuccessfully to restrain the victim with Tasers and pepper spray outside his house before shooting him after he appeared to lunge at gardaí with a kitchen knife.
Mr O’Neill said GSOC had acknowledged in the same letter to the dead man’s family that eyewitness statements were vital to its investigation.
The solicitor said he was also very concerned that GSOC had stated that the exact number of gardaí present at the scene and exact number of shots fired had not yet been confirmed, even though investigators had taken possession of all firearms discharged during the incident.
Gardaí had also refused to identify individual gardaí who had used their weapons to shoot Mr Nkencho, he added.
In a statement last week, An Garda Síochána said gardaí had implemented “a graduated policing response” after being threatened with a knife. Its policy is not to comment further while a GSOC investigation is ongoing.
Mr Nkencho’s killing has sparked a series of mostly peaceful protests in the Blanchardstown area over recent days directed at gardaí, while his family have been subjected to racist abuse in the wake of his death.
An abusive and racist letter posted to Mr Nkencho’s family last week is being separately investigated by gardaí under harassment and threatening behaviour legislation.
A spokesperson for GSOC confirmed on Thursday night that its officials had begun taking witness statements.
“As is the case with any investigation, there are a number of matters to be explored and further witnesses to be contacted. This would be in keeping with the carrying out of all criminal investigations,” the spokesperson added.
She confirmed a family liaison officer had been in contact with Mr Nkencho’s family since the day of his death.