Serious crime bureau revived

A GARDA national bureau of investigation, empowered to deal with serious crime throughout the State, will be reinstated later…

A GARDA national bureau of investigation, empowered to deal with serious crime throughout the State, will be reinstated later this month.

The decision effectively reverses organisational changes made in the Garda detective structure in the late 1980s which did away with the unit then known as the Murder Squad.

The Murder Squad was effectively disbanded in 1988 after the controversies over the "Kerry Babies" affair in which a young Kerry woman, Ms Joanne Hayes, was wrongly charged with infanticide.

The new bureau will come directly under the control of the Crime and Security Branch at Garda Headquarters.

It will incorporate the Serious Crime Squad, currently part of the Central Detective Unit (CDU), based in Harcourt Square, which is under the control of the Assistant Commissioner for the Dublin Metropolitan Area (DMA).

The Serious Crime Squad will, from January 21st, be amalgamated with the small investigation unit at Garda Headquarters, the Anti-Racketeering Unit, and the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit. The new bureau will include a unit devoted specifically to stolen vehicles, and another to stolen art and antiques.

The core of the new bureau, however, will be devoted to investigating murders and other major "ordinary" crimes anywhere in the State. Terrorist crime will continue to be investigated by a separate Special Detective Unit, better known as the Special Branch.

The national remit of the new bureau reverses a major policy change instituted in the late 1980s when individual Divisional Officers of chief superintendent rank were given autonomy for investigating major crimes in their own areas.

This policy was persistently derided by former Murder Squad members, who insisted that most local officers did not have the skills required for large investigations.

For several years, Garda management insisted the policy change had not affected clear-up rates in murder investigations.

However, the murder of Veronica Guerin effectively ended the policy of giving local officers control over major investigations.

In the immediate aftermath of her murder a large investigation unit of about 30 detectives, including several former Murder Squad officers, was set up to catch her killers. This unit, headed by Assistant Commissioner Tony Hickey, has had significant successes to date.

The notion of a national bureau of investigation was mooted last year after it was decided that drugs and fraud would also be investigated on a national basis.

The old Fraud Squad, under the control of the Central Detective Unit in the DMA, was transformed into the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation, with a national remit. The former Drugs Squad, also part of CDU, became the National Drugs Bureau.

Both these units were significantly upgraded and given extra staff. An officer of chief superintendent rank was put in charge.

It is understood the new national bureau for investigating serious crime will come under the control of an officer of at least chief superintendent rank.

Under the new crime investigation structure, the bureau may have regional squads which can be switched to different parts of the State depending on the incidence of serious crime.

The first national Garda unit to investigate serious crime was established in the early 1960s.