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Review into 999 calls finds report of 'serious sexual crime' cancelled while call was in progress

A previous internal Garda review found that there were more than 200,000 cancelled 911 calls between 2019 and 2020.

Image: Shutterstock/Derick Hudson

Updated Sep 29th 2022, 5:17 PM

A REVIEW INTO the mishandling of 999 calls revealed how allegations of serious sexual assaults and abuse were not investigated. 

The report has found that there were issues where the call takers did not properly assess the vulnerability of some callers alongside highlighting incidents where information provided within calls was not accurately recorded.

The report, which was carried out by Derek Penman, a former Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, was released today following an interim report which was released in 2021.

A previous internal Garda review found that there were more than 200,000 999 calls cancelled between 2019 and 2020.

In relation to serious incidents that went uninvestigated, Penman’s report stated:

“Although there was the potential for serious harm to victims due to such shortcomings, no actual harm was identified from the sample examined in the call listening phase.”

However, the report added that it is not possible to determine whether serious harm occurred in incidents where callers or potential victims were not identified. 

In relation to specific incidents surrounding sexual and domestic violence, the report found shortcomings in call handling where there was potential for serious harm.

One example of this was an incident where the call taker did not ask a caller for contact details and ended the call, even though the caller was at that time witnessing what they believed to be a serious sexual crime in progress.

As the caller was not kept on the line, they could not provide potentially valuable information to the Gardaí attending nor could they be re-contacted to provide further information when the Gardaí attending the call were unable to locate the scene of the potential crime or victim.
In this incident, it is feasible that a serious crime was committed, and the victim of a serious sexual crime never came forward tomake a report.
Although this incident was properly identified during the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) Review, there was no possibility of identifying a victim and therefore no possibility to determine whether a crime occurred or if there was any injury to a victim. 

Inaccurate records

Some incidents highlighted in the report include where call takers did not accurately record information provided to them by callers.

This led, at times, to Gardaí being dispatched to the wrong locations and leaving callers unable to be re-contacted.

“There are incidents where basic call-taking procedures were not being met, especially in terms of requesting, recording, and validating the contact details of callers, victims or incident locations,” reads the report.

The report also details incidents where call takers did not take sufficient time to properly assess the vulnerability of callers.

It also details how Garda members requested that the some Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) incidents be cancelled.

“There are some incidents where Garda Members specifically requested that the CAD incident be cancelled, as well as incidents where callers were directed by call takers to attend local stations, rather than dispatching a Garda Member,” the report reads.

“In some cases, members requested dispatchers to cancel incidents which resulted in follow up activities being avoided.”

While the report does raise concerns about a lack of investment in the CAD system, calling it an ageing system, it says that this cannot be blamed for call cancellations.

“However, the cancellation of calls requires a specific action on the part of a call handler in order to cancel a call and therefore the technology was not deemed to be a significant contributory factor,” the report reads.

The report also raises concerns over a lack of “supervisory checks” and that there were procedures in place that “should have identified unwarranted cancelled incidents”.

“This would suggest that supervision, quality assurance checks and procedures for the performance management of individuals within regional control rooms and local stations were either not followed or not effective,” the report adds.

In a statement on the publication of the report, Policing Authority Chairperson Bob Collins said:

“The 999 emergency call service is a crucial public service that people, often the most vulnerable, rely on in moments of crisis.

It is essential that the Garda Síochána addresses the underlying issues identified in this report—issues including supervision, selection processes for specific roles, and performance management—so that the public can continue to have the confidence that it needs to have in the 999 emergency call service and will be assured of receiving the quality of service it deserves from its policing service.

“The Authority will continue to bring regular and rigorous oversight to this area,” Collins concluded.

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About the author:

Tadgh McNally and Garreth MacNamee

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