Shortcomings in Garda inquiries into deaths ‘inherently worrying’

Review of 41 homicide inquiries and found issues with 28 of them

Investigative shortcomings were discovered in nearly three quarters of homicide inquiries, including murders, carried out by gardaí when the cases were examined by the force’s oversight body.

Investigative shortcomings were discovered in nearly three quarters of homicide inquiries, including murders, carried out by gardaí when the cases were examined by the force’s oversight body.

 

Investigative shortcomings were discovered in nearly three quarters of homicide investigations, including murders, carried out by gardaí when they were reexamined.

The homicide review, carried out by the Garda and overseen by the Policing Authority, said that in some cases witness statements were not taken from “all concerned parties” in investigations into murders, manslaughters and cases of causing death while driving.

It said new lines of inquiry were not followed up “in a timely manner” in other homicide investigations or injured parties were not accompanied by gardaí to hospital, which undermined the “continuity” of physical evidence.

The review found that in some of the 41 homicide investigations reviewed physical evidence was not preserved or seized from a crime scene or hospital and not submitted for forensic analysis in a timely manner.

It found that in other cases house-to-house inquiries, seeking witness statements, were not completed. New senior investigating officers were not appointed to some ongoing homicide investigations when the initial officer was transferred or retired.

Redacted

The review followed two civilian data analysts in the Garda raising concerns about how cases they were reviewing in 2016 had been classified and investigated. It has now been completed but only its redacted main findings have been published by the authority.

The analysts found some homicides were recorded in the wrong year, some were recorded as public disorder incidents and in one case involving murder and suicide it was recorded as a “non crime” incident.

The review said that on some occasions when suspects were detained their photographs or fingerprints were not taken even though permission had been secured by gardaí to do so. In other cases important detail about a killing was not recorded, such as whether it was racially motivated and if a weapon was used or if the death was linked to gangland crime or a result of domestic violence.

Josephine Feehily, the outgoing chair of the Policing Authority, said though problems were found they did not impact the outcome of the investigations.

However, she said finding problems in 28 of 41 cases reviewed represented a high hit rate and was “inherently worrying”.

The authority said now that mistakes had been found with the investigation of homicides, which had a very high detection rate, it was possible errors were also being made in the investigation of crime types with low detection rates.

Under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights every citizen has a right to life and each State is obliged to fully investigate suspicious deaths.

Ms Feehily added that “at the beginning of this process the authority received an assurance” from senior gardaí that the homicide investigations were Article 2 compliant.

‘Open question’

However, she said “now we have a (Garda) commissioner saying ‘I’m not sure I’m qualified to judge’”. Article 2 compliance “would remain an open question” in 2020, she believed.

Bob Collins, the former RTÉ director-general who is succeeding Ms Feehily as chair of the authority, said an independent evaluation was required on Article 2 compliance.

As a result of the homicide review a range of recommendations have been made to the Garda including fixes to its Pulse computer system, which should minimise the scope of individual gardaí to make errors when recording crimes and the details of ongoing investigations.

Additional training for members of the force is also recommended in order that they better appreciate the need to avoid making the kind of mistakes identified in the review.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said a group to implement the recommendations had already been established under Deputy Commissioner John Twomey.

“Of the 21 recommendations, five have been completed. This includes issues identified relating to training, prioritisation of taking statements from key and vulnerable witnesses, and exhibit management,” he said.

Furthermore, 200 Garda members had been trained to carry out peer reviews of criminal investigations conducted by members of the force.

Analysts Lois West and Laura Galligan, whose concerns prompted the review, told the Oireachtas justice committee last year that they were “belittled and treated poorly” after highlighting how some cases had been investigated and classified. They said they were pressured to back away from their findings before a comprehensive review was agreed to.