Ombudsman says garda should face disciplinary case over comments

 

THE GARDA Síochána Ombudsman Commission has recommended disciplinary proceedings be taken against one of the gardaí who was investigated over taped remarks about two female Corrib gas protesters last year.

In a report published yesterday, it found that a second garda – a sergeant – who spoke about raping the women had since retired from the force and was not subject to disciplinary proceedings. Three other gardaí present at the time of the remarks were exonerated in an interim report last July.

Under disciplinary regulations, the Garda Commissioner has a number of options available to him including a warning, reprimand or reduction in pay.

The ombudsman initiated its investigation in April last year after the release of a digital recording in which several gardaí joked about threatening to rape and deport one of two women arrested on public order offences near the Corrib gas project.

A camcorder confiscated from the protesters had been left switched on in a garda’s jacket pocket.

An interim report issued last year confirmed the recording had taken place when five gardaí were travelling in a vehicle separate to that transporting the two female protesters to Belmullet Garda station in Co Mayo.

This report found no evidence of a criminal offence by any of the five. However, it found that two of them may have had a disciplinary case to answer over comments they made.

Yesterday’s report states that four of the gardaí confirmed their sergeant had used the word “rape” on a number of occasions. A second member of the force was identified as making comments about the women being deported and implying that they may be carrying a disease after staying in the “crusty camp”.

The report also referred to a dispute between the ombudsman and members of staff at NUI Maynooth in relation to deleted files on the camcorder.

After being requested to hand over the camcorder to the ombudsman, one of the protesters – identified by staff as postgraduate student Jerrie Ann Sullivan – said the device also contained confidential information relating to her studies.

Through a solicitor, she suggested that files could be deleted by someone from the university – under the supervision of the ombudsman – prior to handing over the device.

However, the ombudsman warned that any level of interference with the camcorder had the potential to render the recorded evidence inadmissible.

Academic staff at the university subsequently deleted the files, claiming they had no bearing on the investigation.

The ombudsman later interviewed a member of staff under caution in relation to possible offences of attempting to pervert the course of justice. However, the ombudsman decided not to send a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Overall, the ombudsman’s report states that the events in Co Mayo were very public and had the potential to “undermine public confidence in the Garda Síochána” and hoped the report would bring some comfort to those affected.

It says it was conscious that “events such as these can be a cause of distress” and hoped yesterday’s report would bring some measure of comfort to those affected. “The Ombudsman Commission offers its reassurance to the public and to serving gardaí that proportionate and fair investigation of events such as this is conducted in an independent manner, in the public interest,” the report states.

It also welcomed a pledge by the commissioner last year that all victims of sexual crime would be met with compassion and sensitivity.