Liaise with agencies in abuse cases, Garda told

 

THE GARDA Inspectorate has identified a lack of meaningful co-operation between the Garda, Health Service Executive agencies and NGOs as a major ongoing impediment to the swift and thorough investigation of sexual abuse against children.

In the findings of its report into how the Garda responds to complaints of child sexual abuse, it has recommended a new response across the force and the agencies gardaí work with.

It has urged the appointment of an assistant commissioner who would have an oversight role into all of the Gardas responses to allegations of sexual abuse, both clerical and lay.

To improve working relations between the Garda and other agencies, it has recommended the establishment of at least two “child advocacy centres in Dublin”.

These would run on a pilot basis with a view to establishing a best practice model and would involve the Garda, HSE and St Louise’s and St Clare’s assessment therapy units.

All of these parties would work in close consultation with the DPP in order that child-centred practices that lead to more prosecutions would be developed.

Among the other key recommendations of the inspectorate’s “Responding to Child Sexual Abuse” report are:

* The garda who takes an initial complaint of child sexual abuse, should no longer investigate that case. Instead, specially trained detectives with the skills needed to interview a witness just once should be used and these should undergo regular counselling.

* An information campaign should be undertaken by gardaí in which the method of making a complaint of child sexual abuse is clearly explained to the public. This campaign should also assure would-be complainants that they will be believed and their complaints investigated as a matter of priority.

* The small number of people who make false complaints should be prosecuted.

* Every complaint made should lead to an immediate interview of the victim to minimise the time for a victim to “be influenced or withdraw a complaint”.

* In one-third of cases initial statements of complaint were withdrawn, meaning gardaí should assume very early in every investigation that this is going to happen and begin immediately searching for corroborating evidence.

* The Garda should abandon its current policy of not approaching a victim when complaints are made through a third party, including people appointed by the church to take complaints to gardaí.

* The Catholic Church should not be spared forced Garda searches under search warrant if documents requested by gardaí are not immediately surrendered.

* Cold case reviews should be regularly carried out of complaints that failed to progress to a prosecution in the past.

* Gardaí should enter all allegations as recorded crimes on the Garda’s Pulse computer database. They should not wait until the crimes are proven before they do this.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said many of the recommendations had already been acted on. In April 2010 the Garda had overhauled its policies on investigating child sexual abuse allegations. This had provided for specialist sex crime interviewers.

A Garda Sexual Crime Management Unit had been established to assist gardaí in the investigation of such crimes. It promotes best investigative practice and monitors investigations to ensure they are being progressed properly.

Interview suites where child victims could be sensitively dealt with by gardaí had also been established across the State.

Following the inquiry by the Murphy commission into the Dublin archdiocese, the Garda had already stated that deference to the church had no place in criminal investigations, Mr Shatter said.

The assistant commissioner in charge of national support services had effectively already taken on the role of overseeing the area of child protection and was liaising with the HSE, he added.