There is a “significant and growing” reluctance among victims of domestic abuse to hand over their phones for Garda investigations, affecting the chances of bringing a prosecution, the Garda Commissioner has said.
Drew Harris said victims face the prospect of not being able to use their phone “for a couple of years” but may be obliged to continue paying €50 or €60 a month rental for it.
He said the Department of Justice was aware of the difficulty and said that one possible solution would be for gardaí to be in a position to provide victims with a replacement phone until they get their old one back.
The police chief was speaking at a public meeting with the Policing Authority, where member Elaine Byrne raised the issue with him.
“It can be a difficulty and I know it’s a difficulty we are well aware of and what we might do to ease that problem,” he said.
It’s a significant issue and a growing issue and we need to find an answer to that.”
He said there can be “very valuable evidence” on phones, including messages and videos being sent and received.
Commissioner Harris said they wanted the technology to download material, but said they had to hold on to the physical device in case defence counsel in any prosecution raises issues of tampering.
He said it was a “one for one” replacement issue, in which gardaí would be provided with the resources to provide victims with a substitute phone.
“We’re well aware of that and the department is aware of the issue as well,” he said.
New figures presented at the authority meeting show that current and former partners and family members are the suspected perpetrators in a quarter of serious assaults.
In what are new statistics Garda HQ is able to provide since last July, only 18% of assaults causing harm involved offenders not known to the victim.
No suspect was identified in a quarter of the cases.
Figures on the relationship between victims and perpetrators in reported crimes for assault causing harm and for minor assault since July 2021 show:
- Current intimate partners/spouses are responsible for 12% of assaults causing harm and 10% of minor assaults;
- Former intimate partner/spouse: 6% and 6%;
- Family relationship