Judge criticises ‘inexcusable’ five-year delays in child porn cases

Lack of investment in Garda Computer Crime unit blamed for the backlog

Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin said that it was “inexcusable” that it was taking up to five years to have computer equipment examined by experts due to a lack of investment. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin said that it was “inexcusable” that it was taking up to five years to have computer equipment examined by experts due to a lack of investment. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

A judge has criticised the lack of investment in the main Garda unit involved in investigating computer crime which is resulting in delays of up to five years in bringing child pornography cases to court.

Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin said that it was “inexcusable” that it was taking up to five years to have computer equipment examined by experts due to a lack of investment in the Garda Computer Crime Investigation Unit which is responsible for examining computers suspected of containing child porn.

“A delay like this is inexcusable - these are very sensitive and important cases,” said Judge Ó Donnabháin after hearing that it took until this year to proceed with a prosecution against Cork man Mark Keohane, despite gardaí raiding his apartment and seizing his computer on October 20th 2011.

Keohane, with an address at Glenderry, Dunkettle, Glanmire, Co Cork, pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to possessing child pornography, namely 360 images of naked children and nine images of children engaging in sexual activity at his flat at the Court, Compass Quay, Kinsale in 2011.

Sgt Michael Lyons of Kinsale Garda Station explained that the delay in bringing the case to trial was due to the backlog of cases where computer equipment and discs had been sent to the Computer Crime Investigation Unit for examination to confirm what was stored on them.

Sgt Lyons told how he searched Keohane’s apartment at the Court, Compass Quay, Kinsale on October 20th 2011 and seized a home computer hard drive, a USB stick and a laptop and sent them to the Computer Crime Investigation Unit for examination.

“i sent the computer equipment up to the unit for analysis and wrote to them on a quarterly basis but there’s such a backlog you just have to take your place in the queue and it’s taking four to five years for the reports on what was found on the equipment to be generated,” he said.

Gardaí in Kinsale had been contacted by colleagues at the Paedophile Unit in Dublin after they received information as part of an international investigation that Keohane had accessed child pornography on his computer so they obtained a warrant to search his apartment.

When they arrived at his apartment, he said he knew why they were there and he handed over a USB key that they otherwise might never have found, said Sgt Lyons, adding that Keohane co-operated fully with the investigation. “He put his hands up from the outset,” he said.

Some 360 images were classified as being in Category 2 child porn depicting children naked while nine images were in the higher Category 3 level where children were depicted naked and engaging in sexual activity, he said.

Sgt Lyons said that Keohane, who works as fitness instructor, had at the time just split up from his partner and started drinking and accessing pornography on the web which in turn led to him looking at other sites featuring child pornography.

“He said he was led down a dark road but he has an insight into the consequences - he knows it is not a victimless crime,” said Sgt Lyons who told defence barrister Ray Boland BL that Keohane had no previous convictions and he was confident he would not come to Garda attention again.

Judge Ó Donnabháin said it was an unusual case in that Keohane did not appear to have “the disordered thinking” that was common in such cases and he had a good insight into the consequences of his actions including recognition that child porn was not a victimless crime.

Such insight is often absent in such crime and given his guilty plea, the appropriate sentence was one of six months which he suspended, said Judge Ó Donnabháin, who commended Sgt Lyons for his professionalism and stressed that his comments about delay related solely to the national unit.