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Inquiry into suicide of Donegal sergeant who was investigated by Gsoc finds 'mistakes were made'

The judge found an email notifying management of the criminal investigation into Sergeant Michael Galvin and two of his colleagues was inadvertently deleted.

Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

A JUDICIAL INQUIRY into the circumstances surrounding the suicide of a sergeant at a Donegal garda station in 2015 has found mistakes were made and some policies in relation to Gsoc investigations are inadequate.

Sergeant Michael Galvin died by suicide in a room in Ballyshannon Garda Station in May 2015. He was one of three gardaí who were being investigated by Gsoc because they had interacted with a woman called Sheena Stewart, who died on New Year’s Day 2015.

There had been reports that the woman was distressed and was lying on the road at the bus station in Ballyshannon.

Sergeant Galvin was on his way to a hit-and-run at the time with his colleague Garda John Clancy and they encountered the 33-year-old woman at the bus station en route.

In his statement on the incident he wrote that she was on the footpath when they pulled up – CCTV later showed she was on the road and this inconsistency was questioned by Gsoc officers in their investigation.

They stopped to speak with her and told her they were on their way to the road crash scene but would return to her. Sheena Stewart was back on the footpath when they left her.

The inquiry, carried out by Justice Frank Clarke, heard from Garda Clancy that Sergeant Galvin had intended to make arrangements, if necessary, for her to stay in a B&B in the town. The judge heard he “had often provided that type of assistance in the past”.

However in the time half hour that followed, the woman returned to the road and at one point lay down on it. She was struck and killed by a mini-bus at 1.50am.

Email deleted

In a meeting at Ballyshannon garda station that day, Gsoc officers met with Galvin, Clancy and a third garda who had earlier interaction with the deceased woman, Sergeant Stewart Doyle.

The gardaí were told statements would be obtained for the purpose of justifying their actions, but the inquiry found it was not made clear to them that they were the subject of a criminal investigation.

A formal notification that the three men were subject of a criminal investigation was later that month sent by email from Gsoc to the garda divisional office in Letterkenny. This email was “inadvertently deleted”, something the judge said was “highly unfortunate”.

Neither Sergeant Galvin nor Garda Clancy knew the were the subject of a criminal investigation until they were contacted to present themselves for an interview three months after it started.

The inquiry notes the sergeant had a lengthy consultation with his solicitors on 14 May 2015 during which he appeared to be “extremely concerned”. He had at this stage been told by an investigating Gsoc officer that the offence under investigation was perverting the course of justice.

On 21 May, following an interview with Sergeant Galvin, the investigating officer submitted a report recommending no prosecution. Six days later, an official from Gsoc Legal Affairs replied to him agreeing with his recommendation but informing him the file should nonetheless be sent to the Director of Public Prosecution.

The next day, on 28 May, 2015, Sergeant Galvin’s body were found in a locked detective’s room.

‘Distressed’

The inquiry was critical of the release of information to the media about the fact that Sergeant Galvin had been cleared of wrongdoing before his family had been told of the outcome of the investigation.

The inquiry found it would have been “significantly preferable” if greater coordination had taken to ensure the media did not have this information before the Galvin family.

It also noted that Sergeant Steward Doyle, the third garda who was under investigation, was not aware he was being investigated until after the death of Sergeant Galvin. He found out he had been the subject of this criminal investigation when he was informed that no action was to be taken in respect of him.

“It was very clear from all of the evidence heard by the inquiry that both the family and friends of Sergeant Galvin and also his colleagues in An Garda Síochána were extremely upset and distressed by the way in which the matter was handled,” the judge said.

Justice Clarke said consideration should be given to changing the current practice whereby the existence of a Gsoc criminal investigation is notified by An Garda Síochána to the member concerned.

It is suggested that this notification should be conducted by Gsoc in conjunction, if that is considered appropriate, with an appropriate line manager within An Garda Síochána.

He also recommended much more detailed information be made available to members of An Garda Síochána in a clear form about how Gsoc investigations are carried out.

The inquiry has suggested that Gsoc might give consideration to whether it is appropriate policy to always refer a file to the DPP.

The inquiry feels that some consideration should be given to considering whether there may not be some cases where no or so little evidence or materials are turned up in the course of a GSOC investigation of that type that a referral of a file to the DPP might be considered neither necessary nor truly justified.

Although the judge said “some mistakes were made, some policies and practices have been shown to be inadequate”, he concluded that no Gsoc officers were guilty of gross error.

Reacting to the findings of the inquiry today, General Secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi), John Jacob, said today that Sergeant Galvin was a person of “exceptional integrity, who was a consummate gentleman and an exemplary sergeant”.

He pointed out that Michael Galvin was “not involved in any wrong-doing” and that this must always be emphasised.

“In making this statement, we are acutely aware of the pain of the Galvin family. Michael’s death was a great loss his wife, children and wider family circle and they continue to grieve the loss of husband, father and son. Michael’s colleagues are also reminded of their great loss with the publication of this report,” he said.

The association called on Gsoc to conduct the business of its investigations in a “more open and transparent fashion in the future to reduce the anxiety and distress for members under investigation”.

If you need to talk, please contact:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or text 087 2 60 90 90
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)  

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