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Thousands of crimes, including rape, not prosecuted due to serious failings in Garda youth scheme

Serious crimes – including one reported case of rape – were not pursued by the force.

ALMOST 8,000 REPORTED crimes by more than 3,000 children and young people went unpunished due to serious problems with the Garda youth referral scheme, the force has confirmed. 

Serious crimes that were not pursued included one case of rape and one of child neglect. Thousands of reported public order offences, thefts, traffic offences and incidents of criminal damage also went unpursued. 

Commissioner Drew Harris gave more detail on the extent of the problem at a public meeting of the Policing Authority this afternoon (see video below).

“We’ve let society down by not fully pursuing these crimes, some of them serious, committed by young people,” Harris told the authority. 

He said gardaí had also let down young people who were “in the main, vulnerable children”. Some had committed crimes in the past and would go on to commit further offences, he said. 

“We should have done better by them.” He said the problems were due to both organisational and individual failings.

This latest scandal was earlier described to TheJournal.ie by sources with knowledge of the situation as another “very damaging” development and a “monumental mess”. 

Letters of apology to some 3,480 individual and business victims are to be sent out by gardaí – the first of which were posted this morning. A dedicated helpline (details below) for anyone who may have been a victim of one of these crimes has also been set up.

Source: Policing Authority/YouTube

What happened? 

The youth diversion scheme – officially known as the Juvenile Diversion Programme – was set up in 2001 with the aim of helping prevent young people from entering the full criminal justice system. 

Instead of a criminal conviction, the young person was given the chance to admit to their crime as part of the scheme and offered one of a range of options to make amends – including apologising to the victim of their crime, offering money or agreeing to participate in sporting or other activities. 

Problems with the management of the scheme began after it moved from a paper-based system to the Garda PULSE network in 2010.

Under the computer-based system, an automatic referral to the youth diversion scheme was sent whenever an officer entered a crime and recorded the suspect as being between the ages of 12 and 18. 

The Garda Youth Diversion Office would receive the referral and in about two-thirds of the cases the referral was accepted. 

In around one third of cases the referral was not accepted and the Director of the Garda Youth Diversion Office then sent the file back saying the child was not admissible. A young person may be deemed ineligible for the scheme for a number of reasons, including a failure to take responsibility, their offending history or a lack of cooperation from parents.

Red flags were raised as far back as 2014 when it appeared some of these reported crimes were not then followed up by gardaí with a view to making arrests and securing a conviction.

Internal probes 

Over the following years three successive internal probes of the system were carried out:

  • The Garda Professional Standards Unit handed its report on the diversion programme to an assistant commissioner in June 2017
  • A further scoping effort was ordered, headed up by that assistant commissioner, in July 2017 
  • In the wake of that scoping exercise a ‘deep dive’ examination of more than 22,000 files from across the country was carried out by a team headed up by a detective superintendent and including four sergeants and an incident room coordinator. This began last year. 

Over the seven years examined by the team, 158,521 youth referrals were made relating to 57,386 children. 103,515 referrals were then deemed suitable for the programme.

Of the 55,506 referrals deemed not suitable for the programme, 33,332 resulted in the youth being charged or summonsed. 

012Dublin Rapre Crisis report_90559424 Garda Commissioner Drew Harris Source: RollingNews.ie

Not progressed 

However, in 22,174 cases there was no evidence of an associated charge being recorded on the PULSE system. The examination team found that 7,894 cases were not appropriately progressed. 

The cases relate to 3,489 children and young people, according to the latest Garda estimates. 

An Garda Síochána provided this breakdown of figures associated with that number this morning: 

  • 55 serious crimes went unpursued 
  • These fell into categories that included crimes like aggravated burglaries, firearms possession, violent disorder and drugs offences
  • The serious crimes that went unpursued included one incident of rape, one incident of sexual offence and once incident of child neglect
  • Thousands of other crimes were also not further investigated – including public order offences, thefts, traffic offences and incidents of criminal damage
  • There were 2,492 individual victims of these reported crimes 
  • 988 business victims were also affected – mostly by shoplifting and other thefts 

What’s being done?

The automatic referral system has since been removed from the PULSE system. Under the revised system, a senior officer in the area the crime took place now needs to sign off on whether or not a reported crime is referred to the force’s youth diversion office. 

Other actions have also been taken to address the serious failings in the system, An Garda Síochána said this morning, including a new monitoring system for youth referrals and a mandatory requirement for Garda members to complete e-learning on the youth referral process. 

Each victim of a reported crime that went unpursued will receive a letter specific to their case signed by the senior officer in their area. The letter will include an apology, a victim information leaflet and contact details of the Garda Victim Services Programme. 

Victims will also be given the opportunity of receiving a personal visit from a local Garda team. In a small number of cases, victims of serious crimes will receive a personal visit in the coming days. 

The first of the letters were sent this morning and it will take until the end of next week before they’re all in the postal system. 

A Garda Youth Referrals freephone helpline is also being made available at 1800 589 589 and email support can be sought at youthdiversion.helpdesk@garda.ie. The helpline is open now and will operate from 7am to 10pm for the next two weeks. 

Commissioner Harris was asked by members of the Policing Authority today about possible disciplinary action for the more than 3,000 gardaí who failed to follow-up on cases when a referral came back. 

“I can’t say this is about 3,400 gardaí alone, this is a supervision process as well,” he said. 

He said these cases are being looked at in closer detail now and he will have to see if disciplinary action is under consideration. 

Harris said the organisation will also have to look at how well it’s done obtaining evidence and pursuing prosecutions in relation to adults who have allegedly committed crimes. 

Authority member Noel Brett said there has been a pattern with the organisation’s response to issues that have arisen in recent years. 

He described a “lack of organisational curiosity to understand what went wrong” and said it appeared management was treating issues as standalone incidents and “running first to explanations” such as IT problems, garda numbers, or a lack of supervisors. 

‘Chaotic lives’ 

The vast majority of these 3,489 children linked with the cases in question had lived chaotic lives and many had come to Garda attention before the time of their missed referral. 

An Garda Síochána figures provided this morning said that on average the children had four prior referrals, two prior charges and one prior summons before their referral was missed.  

Subsequent to their first referral not being progressed, on average, these children had ten referrals, 17 charges and seven summonses. 

It was confirmed this morning that each of the children and young people who were affected – many of whom are now aged up to 25 – would receive a letter signed by a senior local officer informing them that their case was not progressed and giving details of the helpline and information on further support. In cases where the person is still a minor the letter will be sent to a parent or guardian. 

  • Helpline number: 1800 589 589
  • Email: youthdiversion.helpdesk@garda.ie

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy  

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