Leah Farrell
cancelled calls

Women's Aid says cancelled 999 calls 'troubling' as Policing Authority asks: 'If my call is cancelled, how do I know?'

Drew Harris earlier apologised to hundreds of domestic abuse victims who had their 999 calls cancelled between 2019 and 2020.

A NATIONAL SUPPORT service for women impacted by domestic abuse, Women’s Aid, has described as “deeply troubling” the reports of hundreds of cancelled 999 emergency calls.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris met the Policing Authority this afternoon to answer questions about the failure of gardaí to properly respond to these emergency calls, largely from domestic violence victims, in 2019 and 2020.

A member of the Policing Authority has raised concerns over how a person would know if their emergency call was cancelled. 

An internal inquiry into the cancellation of the calls was led by Assistant Commissioner Barry O’Brien.

A member of the Policing Authority Valerie Judge asked O’Brien this afternoon: “Regardless of what my situation is – it might be domestic violence or it might be that I think there’s somebody about to break into my house. If my call is cancelled, how do I know and that I’m not waiting all night?”

O’Brien said people would know if they “haven’t got a response”, and Judge questioned if it is up to the individual to call back.

She questioned what this would mean if a person has called 999 in an emergency situation but are “unable to make another call”. 

O’Brien responded: “All of the calls – the requirement is that when the call is dispatched, the time is logged and then it’s up to the mobile to give what’s known as at-scene time when they arrive at the scene and all of this is monitored by both the call dispatcher and also the supervisor who have access to that information.”

In a press conference following the Policing Authority meeting, Commissioner Harris agreed that he was concerned that people may lose trust in gardaí answering their emergency calls.

“This has been exposed to the light. We want to be a learning organisation. There’s plenty for us to learn about this in terms of the quality of the response that 999 callers get,” he said.

Policing Authority chairperson Bob Collins told reporters that Valerie Judge’s question was “very apt” because cancelled calls disappear from the system and the caller may be dissuaded from calling again.

“If somebody has struggled, or if they had to muster courage to make that call, they may not be encouraged to make a repeat call if nobody comes back to them. And I think that is one of the key concerns.”

Assistant commissioner O’Brien examined 3,000 calls between 2019 and 2020, with the interim report from the inquiry finding that about half of these calls were cancelled correctly but hundreds of calls were not. 

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris earlier apologised to the hundreds of domestic abuse victims whose calls were cancelled. 

The exact extent of the issue is still unknown as an internal garda inquiry is “a work in progress”, but initial findings estimate some 312 victims had their calls cancelled before there was an appropriate policing response.

Bob Collins earlier expressed the Policing Authority’s “deep dissatisfaction” and “significant concern” with the engagement it received from An Garda Síochána regarding the cancelled calls.

Collins criticised the nature of the information provided by the force, the response the authority received to clarifications it sought and the “unsatisfactory” level of engagement from gardaí.

In a statement today, domestic violence support organisation Women’s Aid described the reports of cancelled calls as being of “deep concern”. 

The organisation’s CEO Sarah Benson said it is “extremely troubling”. 

“A single call in an emergency situation to Gardai can be life changing for someone subjected to domestic violence – in a positive or negative way depending on how the call is dealt with,” Benson said.

“The Gardaí are a key frontline responder to combating and preventing the scourge of domestic abuse in Ireland, to protect victims and hold perpetrators to account. Public trust in their response is absolutely vital.”

She welcomed Drew Harris’ apology and said a review of internal systems and practices “must also be completed” to ensure this issue “can never happen again”. 

The Women’s Aid annual report released on Tuesday showed calls to the service increased by 43% last year compared to 2019. 

29,717 people contacted the domestic violence support service reporting high levels of emotional, physical, sexual and economic abuse, the report found. 

- Additional reporting by Céimin Burke.

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