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'Inherently worrying': Review of homicide cases finds flaws in 28 investigations

The Policing Authority said today it wants a number of recommendations acted upon by gardáí to “ensure public confidence”.

Policing Authority chairperson Josephine Feehily speaking today.
Policing Authority chairperson Josephine Feehily speaking today.
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

A REPORT INTO how gardaí investigated a number of homicides has found 28 cases where the investigation was flawed.

These flaws included information not being entered on the Pulse system correctly, exhibits not securely stored, house-to-house inquiries not being completed and audio recordings from 999 calls not prepared accurately.

The Policing Authority said today that “in order to ensure public confidence”, An Garda Síochána must act on recommendations made on foot of these cases and ensure they are “implemented in their totality and quickly”. 

The gardaí have said they will implement the recommendations promptly and have set up an implementation group headed by deputy commissioner John Twomey. 

Flawed investigations

The issue around potential flaws in homicide figures emerged in June 2017, when gardaí revealed that 89 homicides over a 14-year period were not counted due to an issue with the way they were recorded on the Pulse database.

Two civilian members of An Garda Síochána later told an Oireachtas Committee that they felt “belittled” and were treated with little respect when they tried to voice their concern over the inaccurate recording of homicides on the Pulse system.

Gardaí began an internal review which was formally established in February 2018 after the Policing Authority questioned the homicide figures.

The Policing Authority today commented on the review made by An Garda Síochána into the classification of homicides on its Pulse system and the quality of investigation into these homicides.

Of 41 case files reviewed by the internal garda team, 28 of them had “at least one investigative issue identified, ranging from minor to others which were a cause for concern”. 

However, it was noted that these issues did not impact the outcome of investigations in the cases reviewed.

The Policing Authority said: “Apart from the 41 cases between 2013 and 2015 the review of more recent deaths in the years 2016 up to 2019 also identified data quality issues and misclassification issues across these years and these have been rectified.

Disappointingly, given the attention that the review has been given across the organisation over the past three years, a small number of 2017 cases were identified with investigative issues. There were still misclassification issues as recently as 2018 and as the report states the risk of misclassification persists until such time as the recommendations are implemented in full.

Outgoing Policing Authority chairperson Josephine Feehily said today that the authority had previously been given assurances by the gardaí that the errors in homicide probes and were carried out to a standard required under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This article guarantees “everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law”. 

She said today that Garda Commissioner Drew Harris wasn’t able to guarantee that the investigations didn’t breach this Article, and that it will need to be considered further in future. 

“There’s something inherently worrying when you can find investigative issues in 28 cases,” Feehily said. “That’s a high hit-rate.”

She said that the flaws identified and “some were minor, but not all were minor”. 

In all, 21 recommendations have been made to help prevent such flaws re-occuring in homicide investigations. 

It includes a revised policy in relation to the recording of the motive of a crime or incident to include further categories, such as hate crime. It also recommends that a garda member should always accompany the injured/deceased in the ambulance to hospital to “ensure best evidence is available for continuity of exhibits/evidence and where the death is considered suspicious all clothing and evidence should be seized and retained in the hospital”.

The Policing Authority said it wants to see these recommendations implemented “in their totality and quickly”.

Oversight

Commenting on the report today, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said: “The Policing Authority’s positive comments on the quality of the HIRT report and its candour are to be welcomed.

This review is a further demonstration of the ability of the Garda organisation to professionally examine internal issues in conjunction with appropriate oversight.

Harris said that a group had been set up within the gardaí to implement the recommendations contained in the review.

A garda statement added that the public “should be assured of the overall quality of the investigations and the number of cases which have been successfully detected and prosecuted through the courts”.

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Sean Murray

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