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Ireland's cold case detectives say 'it's never too late'

One garda inspector in the unit gave us some insight into how cases are chosen for review and how modern advances have helped give families some closure.

THE SERIOUS CRIME Review Team within An Garda Síochána was set up in 2007 and is responsible for looking at old cases, or ‘cold cases’ as they are commonly known.

In an interview with, Garda Inspector Kevin Daly who works on the team of 14 people, explained that the process is not quite the same as what people see on TV, though there are similarities.

“It’s a very busy job, we engage with a huge number of requests for reviews and not all of them can be undertaken at any time because of the workload present, the feasibility or the backlog,” he said. Most of the cases his team deal with are homicides, serious sexual assaults and missing persons.

What does it take for a case to be reviewed?

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The unit also reviews cases where there has been an allegation or dispersion in the public domain about how an investigation was carried out.

Requests for reviews of investigations come from a variety of different groups – it is not limited to families and friends of victims. Often, an advocacy group will request a review, as well as legal representatives, politicians and local investigators.

In some cases, Daly said a retired garda may submit a case for review because they “saw a glimmer of hope back then but couldn’t solve it and believe there’s something there”.

Advances in technology – particularly in the area of DNA – have made it possible to move on a number of cases and in some, bring closure to families.

As with modern investigations, witnesses are also key and Daly said it often happens that a person’s attitude has changed or they are now willing to give information to gardaí that they hid during the initial investigation.

Weak practice

However the unit is not responsible for re-investigating the cases – rather they review the original investigation and see if it can be built on. Daly explained that the unit’s aim is to examine old investigations and ensure it conforms to best practice guidelines.

“We assist local investigators in bringing it to success by identifying further investigative opportunities,” he said. ”If we identify a weak practice, then we disseminate that to improve future investigations, as opposed to being critical of individual investigators.”

We have to look at it from an impartial, unbiased point of view and give a fair analysis. Without being personally critical of anyone, we have to call a spade a spade. That’s what will give the public confidence in us – it has to stand up to scrutiny. So we’re very careful that it’s accurate.

“We’ll often be able to say that a garda did a good investigation and you have to remember we’re working with hindsight,” he added. “You have to be conscious that decisions at the time are pressured, whereas we get to sit back and review it so it’s easier on us.”

He pointed out that a review “may not result in the resolution of a case.”

I can’t say that we’ve solved a case – it’s the resulting work by local teams that brings that about.

The oldest case

Daly also said the unit has to be “mindful of the time of the investigation and not compare it to current standards”.

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 “It can be difficult looking at cases this old because of the lack of available material at he time, witnesses or recollection mobility,” Daly explained. In this instance, a preliminary review of the investigation  concluded that there was no potential for further review.

Certainly, it’s never too late.

“Sometimes the success is in bringing an answer to a family or being able to say that you’ve explored every opportunity and every avenue is exhausted,” Daly added. “It may also exonerate an individual known in the area as a prime suspect because they were questioned in the past.”

Read: 1970s manslaughter conviction of Martin Conmey “miscarriage of justice”>

Read: 76-year-old woman released after being arrested in connection with 1989 murder>

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