Crime cases dismissed over delays in searching computers

Cases involving child sex abuse, stalking and serious organised crime affected

Criminal cases have been dismissed by the courts because of a four-year backlog in analysing computers and other technology seized by gardaí, the Garda Inspectorate has said. Photograph: Getty Images

Criminal cases have been dismissed by the courts because of a four-year backlog in analysing computers and other technology seized by gardaí, the Garda Inspectorate has said. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Serious criminal cases have been dismissed by the courts because of a four-year backlog in analysing computers and other technology seized by gardaí, the Garda Inspectorate has said.

The most serious cases directly affected included prosecutions for stalking, possession of indecent images, child sex abuse and serious organised crime, said Deputy Chief Inspector with the inspectorate Mark Toland.

The issue has been highlighted in the inspectorate’s highly critical review of the management of the Garda force over decades, in which it said minimal reforms had been made to adapt to change.

The problem was “identified many years ago as a significant organisational risk” by frontline gardaí, the inspectorate’s report, published yesterday, said, adding it should have been “addressed at a much earlier stage and corrective action put in place”.

It added: “If this risk had been managed at a much earlier stage, it would have removed the impact that has occurred, including long delays in investigations and the dismissal of cases in court.”

Prosecutions affected

The Garda’s understaffed Computer Crime Investigation Unit and the Garda Technical Bureau should be merged with the State’s forensic laboratory, which should have “full responsibility” for crime-scene investigations.

“Some of the work carried out by the Technical Bureau is scientific in nature and this type of work is more appropriately carried out by qualified scientists,” it said.

Extra resources have been given to the Garda’s Computer Crime Investigation Unit but not enough to repair the effects of “years of inaction [that] resulted in a serious deficiency in the capacity of the unit to examine exhibits”.

One-stop forensic service

A one-stop forensic service – modelled on the one in Scotland – would “remove unnecessary duplication of reception points, examination and administration and provide an enhanced level of operational transparency”.

The Technical Bureau’s experts could be seconded to the forensic science laboratory, “but in the longer term they should be replaced with professional forensic science staff”, the inspectorate said.

Saying 1,500 gardaí could be used more efficiently with better management, the report criticises successive generations of senior leaders, along with governance failings and poor IT.

In Waterford Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan pledged that Garda senior management would produce “a comprehensive response” in the next few weeks.

“We will be giving our observations to the Minister and, in line with all the other specialist reports, some of its recommendations will inform our strategic plan which will be publishing shortly,” she said.

The majority of gardaí are deployed to Dublin, with just 540 community gardaí out of a total force of 12,800, while the force’s information technology is 30 years out of date.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said the report highlighted the need for reform within the Garda. She said the inspectorate would address the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and a Cabinet subcommittee meeting next week.