Low take-up by Garda Síochána of homicide guidelines

Review launched after serious concerns raised on quality of investigations

The review made 21 recommendations on how gardaí can better investigate and record homicide offences. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

The review made 21 recommendations on how gardaí can better investigate and record homicide offences. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

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Almost half of the recommendations put forward two years ago to improve the Garda’s reporting and investigation of homicides have yet to be implemented.

In 2017 the Homicide Investigation Review Team (HIRT) was established to examine 41 homicide investigations after concerns were raised by Garda analysts about how cases were being handled.

The two analysts, Lois West and Laura Galligan, said at the time they were “belittled and treated poorly”, their integrity “undermined and attacked”, and pressured to back away from their findings.

The HIRT team delivered its report in November 2019. The review found cases that were misclassified and that expertise needed for some investigations was not available. There were other problems such as record-keeping and witness statements not being taken or taken late.

It put forward 21 recommendations on how gardaí can better investigate and record such offences.

Two years later, 12 of the 21 recommendations have been implemented, with nine still outstanding.

The Policing Authority, which has been overseeing the review process, said there are outstanding “risks” regarding the quality of homicide investigation and how such crimes are classified.

The outstanding recommendations include improving the recording of motivations for homicide offences (for example, recording if a homicide is related to a hate crime) and transferring the recording for conviction data from the Garda to the courts service.

A recommendation that the status of missing persons be reviewed yearly to determine if they should be recategorised as deceased, has also yet to be implemented.

‘Key concerns’

The recommendations that have been implemented include a protocol where a Garda should always accompany a dead person in the ambulance to hospital “to ensure best evidence is available for continuity of exhibits/evidence”.

Additionally, when house-to-house inquiries are conducted during a homicide investigation, call-backs are now automatically made to houses where there was no answer, as recommended by the HIRT.

A Policing Authority spokeswoman told The Irish Times it had two key concerns during the review. “One related to classification, the other related to the quality of homicide investigations.

“While considerable progress has been made in implementing the recommendations, until such time as they have been implemented in full, there remains a risk relating to both of those key concerns.”

She said progress on some of the remaining recommendations has been frustrated by Covid-19 as they involve the training of gardaí and the rollout of a new management system.

‘At this stage’

“The implementation remains an important element of the authority’s work and it will remain so until it is satisfied that the recommendations have been implemented.”

Details of the outstanding recommendations were revealed in a letter to Social Democrats leader Catherine Murphy from the Department of Justice. It said work on three of these recommendations is at an advanced stage and progress is expected shortly.

Work on the remaining outstanding matters is continuing “in liaison with the necessary internal and external stakeholders”, it said.

The number of the outstanding recommendations, after a two-year period, is a matter of concern, Ms Murphy said.

“You would have expected that at this stage those recommendations would have been implemented. I accept it takes time to do things but almost half of them not being delivered at this stage would be a cause of concern.”