O’Higgins report: call for progress on legislation to help crime victims

Bill would provide support to victims and information on investigations

Sylvia Roche Kelly: murdered by Jerry McGrath while he was on bail for serious offences.

Sylvia Roche Kelly: murdered by Jerry McGrath while he was on bail for serious offences.

 

The Government needs to urgently enact legislation for victims of crime and create a victims’ Ombudsman in light of the revelations in the O’Higgins report, the Victims’ Rights Alliance has said.

While it welcomed the fact the heads of the Victims of Crime Bill had been published last year, it was to have been enacted last November, and this now appeared to be stalled until summer at the earliest.

The Bill is set to transpose into Irish law the EU directive on victims’ rights. This requires that, from the moment a victim makes contact with police, they are given information about victim support services and referred to those services if they request it.

Under the Bill, gardaí will have to inform victims about the progress of the investigation and of any court dates. Once someone is sent to prison, victims will be informed of their release date, or told if they escape.

The Bill will also extend the right of information to cases where the DPP decides not to prosecute.

Many of the areas covered by the Bill would offer safeguards against shortcomings in one of the more disturbing allegations made by Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe and examined by Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins: how the State dealt with violent offender Jerry McGrath, who is serving life for murder.

Tipperary man McGrath murdered Sylvia Roche Kelly (33) in a Limerick hotel in December 2007 while on bail for other serious crimes.

In April 2007, McGrath launched a savage attack on taxi driver Mary Lynch after getting into her cab in Kells, Co Meath, and requesting to go to a house in Cavan, where he said his sister lived.

He admitted the assault, during which he pulled clumps of Ms Lynch’s hair out and kicked her repeatedly in the head. He was given bail.

In October 2007, while still on bail for the Cavan attack, McGrath was caught attempting to abduct a five-year-old girl from a house in Tipperary. He was later charged, and although gardaí strenuously objected, was granted bail and went on to murder Ms Roche Kelly.

The O’Higgins report said the Garda did not properly classify the assault on Ms Lynch and did not treat it with the seriousness warranted.

Bail was not objected to and was even extended by phone. It also found gardaí failed to keep Ms Lynch informed with developments in the case, including the court hearing where McGrath was convicted.

While Mr Justice O’Higgins said the courts decided to grant McGrath bail when he was caught in a house in Dundrum, Co Tipperary, carrying the five-year-old girl under his arm, there was a failure within the Garda to communicate clearly.

This meant the facts of the Cavan and Tipperary cases were not married, and a complete picture of all allegations against McGrath could not travel through the justice system.

However, no corruption or cover-up was at the heart of that unsatisfactory scenario, the report said.

Speaking on Newstalk radio yesterday, Ms Lynch said if a similar situation arose again she would not feel secure that gardaí would do their job.

“Nobody is being held accountable. Sylvia Roche Kelly is dead because they didn’t handle my case properly,” she said.

Lorcan Roche Kelly, the murdered woman’s husband, said he was disappointed at the scope of the O’Higgins commission report, adding the “the gardaí have been incredibly unco-operative throughout this entire process”.

Founder and co-ordinator of the Victims’ Rights Alliance Maria McDonald said while the O’Higgins report had not been published yet, it was very clear that victims had been let down by the system.

“We feel a victims’ ombudsman or victims’ commissioner should be established in order to ensure victims complaints are dealt with appropriately and quickly.”

She added when internal Garda inquiries were conducted into victims’ complaints, they often “felt their complaints would not be dealt quickly enough and that there may be some sort of bias”.

An ombudsman or commissioner would offer victims “who have been through so much already” the assurance that their complaints were being dealt with independently.