Policing Authority orders homicide review despite Garda assurances

Authority says checks on 41 homicides not robust enough, wants independent view

Josephine Feehily, chairperson of the Policing Authority: the authority has raised questions about the results of the two-stage Garda inquiry.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Josephine Feehily, chairperson of the Policing Authority: the authority has raised questions about the results of the two-stage Garda inquiry. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The Policing Authority has told senior Garda management that checks made to establish if all homicides were investigated properly were not robust enough and must now be carried out independently.

Last year, it emerged an internal Garda review had flagged concerns with the way 41 deaths in the home between 2013 and 2015 had been classified. And 12 of those cases required complete reclassification in Garda records.

Despite the errors and the reclassifications needed, Garda management has repeatedly insisted that all deaths that should have been investigated as homicides were given such an investigation.

Now, however, the Policing Authority, which is chaired by Josephine Feehily, has raised questions about the results of the two-stage Garda review that concluded homicide investigations were carried out in every case that warranted such an inquiry.

In the first phase of the Garda’s internal inquiry, Garda data analysts checked how deaths were classified in the force’s official crime records.

But they did not have sight of the full case files. So they had no way to check if homicide investigations had indeed been conducted in all cases that warranted a homicide investigation.

When the analysts found problems with the classification of some homicides, the superintendents in charge of the initial investigations were contacted with queries.

All of the superintendents expressed their satisfaction that their own investigations were up to the standard of a homicide inquiry, The Irish Times understands.

Lacked independence

During a private meeting last November, senior Garda management was told by the authority that form of review was not good enough because it lacked independence.

According to minutes from the meeting, the Policing Authority questioned whether such an approach was “sufficiently robust, relying as it did on a review by the person who conducted the initial investigation”.

The authority members told the Garda that a new review, independent of those officers involved in the original investigations, was needed. The Policing Authority has confirmed it awaits an update on that instruction.

Meanwhile, The Irish Times has learned that the Minister for Justice, Mr Charlie Flanagan, has met twice this week with Acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin on the issue.

On Monday, the Minister was briefed by Ó Cualáin. On Wednesday, they met again, along with Deputy Commissioner John Twomey, the chair of the Policing Authority and its chief executive, Helen Hall.

In the Dáil on Tuesday and in a statement last week, Mr Flanagan repeated the Garda assurance that 41 domestic homicides found to have classification errors had still been investigated as homicides.

Not properly investigated

However, his office last night said he was aware the Policing Authority ordered a review to test those assurances. The Department of Justice said Mr Flanagan wanted the controversy resolved “on an urgent and priority basis”.

This week’s meetings between the acting Commissioner and the Minister followed reports in The Irish Times that two Garda staff now allege that some homicides were not only wrongly classified, but not properly investigated.

The two civilian staff members have made disclosures to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice. Their claims have not yet been tested.

Early last year it emerged some homicides had been mistakenly recorded, or classified, on the Garda’s computer database, Pulse, as less serious offences. Some domestic killings were classified as non-fatal offences against the person.

The Central Statistics Office has suspended the publication of any further crime data until the Garda identifies and clarifies all of the mistakes in the homicide data. A major review of all homicides dating back to 2003 is now under way in the Garda.