More than 3,000 domestic violence 999 calls marked ‘cancelled’ by Garda

Some victims received no response, others treated with ‘lack of empathy’, investigation finds

The internal Garda investigation into cancelled domestic violence calls began last year. File photograph: iStock

The internal Garda investigation into cancelled domestic violence calls began last year. File photograph: iStock

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More than 3,000 domestic violence 999 calls were “cancelled” by the Garda Síochána and now frontline Garda members and other personnel in the force could be disciplined over the controversy.

The findings are based on the results so far of an internal Garda investigation. Garda Commissioner Drew Harris is due to reveal some of its preliminary findings at a public meeting of the Policing Authority on Thursday.

The fact so many calls were cancelled, did not generate a Garda response or were not properly documented in official Garda records, has significant implications. It means some victims, including vulnerable women and children, called the Garda for help but were ignored. And in many cases, crimes were not captured in official crime data and referrals about at-risk people were not made to agencies such as Tusla.

The internal Garda investigation into the controversy began last year and has to date focused on investigating domestic violence calls only. However, 999 calls related to a whole range of other crimes and emergencies were also cancelled.

The internal inquiry has also found some domestic violence victims calling 999 for help were met with a “lack of empathy”, though they were very vulnerable and at risk at the time.

However, The Irish Times also understands, while between 3,000 and 4,000 domestic violence calls were classified as cancelled in 2019 and 2020, this did not mean there was no policing response to all of them.

In some cases when domestic violence victims called 999 they received no response and their calls were cancelled without reason. In other cases, Garda personnel were dispatched to, and arrived at, the home of the caller seeking emergency help. But when a record of the incident was later made on the Garda’s system, that recording process was botched and the call was classified as “cancelled”.

Wrongly classified

The definitive number of calls that were responded to, but which were wrongly classified as “cancelled”, was not yet available as the internal investigation was ongoing, Garda sources said. However, when large batches of calls marked as “cancelled” were closely examined, it was found more than half of them had been responded to but were wrongly marked as cancelled.

The internal Garda investigation into the matter has also found that in some cases, when gardaí called to domestic violence victims’ homes, they failed to follow procedures for dealing with such cases. They did not make further checks, either phone calls or visits, to the victim in the days that followed.

Garda sources said any member of the force who did not follow procedures could be disciplined. And any personnel, civilians or sworn members of the force, found to have cancelled calls without a good reason could also face disciplinary action.

If a call was cancelled, gardaí no longer had to respond to them. And even if they did respond, they did not have to create an official record of any offences they discovered and the nature of their response. Last November, after the cancellation of calls was spotted during a Garda audit, a fix was installed on the Garda’s system and now calls can only be cancelled with supervisor approval.

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