Criminal investigations into gardaí accused of sexual crimes or domestic violence are being reviewed to ensure they are being dealt with properly and quickly, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said.
The move follows the controversy in the UK over the murder of Sarah Everard by former Metropolitian police officer Wayne Couzens. It has since emerged that there were criminal suspicions about him as far back as 2015 that were not acted on, including allegations of indecent exposure.
A team of Garda investigators has been assembled to carry out checks on current Garda investigations into members of the force accused of sexual or domestic violence crimes, including breaching barring and protection orders. The team will operate under the auspices of the Garda’s Protective Services Bureau, which investigates sexual, gender-based and domestic violence crimes.
While the initial wave of reviews would involve checking that live investigations were being progressed professionally and quickly, and that full files were being sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Mr Harris said once that work was completed older cases were also likely to be checked.
This would involve historical investigations into Garda members accused of domestic or sexual crimes and would seek to determine if they were investigated properly and if the DPP was provided with a file so criminal charges could be considered.
He said the Garda had “watched carefully” the response of the Metropolitan Police and others to the conviction of Couzens (48) for Ms Everard’s kidnap, rape and murder in March, for which he received a full-life sentence.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct in the UK is now investigating previous sexual allegations against Couzens to determine whether he should have been arrested before his offending escalated.
Mr Harris said there were “lessons” from the Couzens case that the Garda could “build on”.
“We want to look at any investigations that are ongoing, in terms of members of An Garda Síochána involved in allegations of either domestic abuse or sexual assault, to make sure those were being properly conducted and are advancing to the Director of Public Prosecutions,” he said.
“We want to be sure that we are providing a high quality investigative service and we are looking towards making sure our own organisation is in the position that it is protecting women and can have the confidence of women, that it is protecting them from violence.”
He said a vetting policy within the Garda was being developed and if allegations were made against members of sexual crime or domestic violence and no prosecution arose, it could still influence where those members concerned served in future.
Mr Harris spoke at the superintendents’ conference in the wake of a series of suspensions and arrests of Garda members amid various allegations into their conduct.
Asked if he was concerned that several cases had come to light in quick succession, even though no findings had been made against any of those involved, Mr Harris said he believed the “vast majority” of Garda members were “honest, hardworking and entirely committed” to policing.
“But within that there are a small group of individuals, and I take no pleasure to say it, who are not living up to the high standards that we expect and, indeed, some of them may be engaged in criminality,” he said.
“That’s a reality. It’s not a pleasant reality, in fact it’s terribly unpleasant to have to say that, but we have to deal with the reality of the situation we are in and make clear what the standards are that we require from members of An Garda Síochána. And where we find wrongdoing, we deal with it or support Gsoc in their investigations.”
He noted that the force had just created an Anti Corruption Unit, adding that when such a body is created it “flags to the organisation” that wrongdoing will not be tolerated and it will result in it being reported.
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc), which investigates allegations of wrongdoing by gardaí, is unhappy that the Anti Corruption Unit has been created as it believes its job is to deal with Garda corruption allegations.
When asked about this, Mr Harris said: “Regrettably, I feel there’s sufficient work for both of us to do”.
He said Gsoc was “on the outside” of the organisation and the new unit was “on the inside”, meaning it came upon intelligence about alleged wrongdoing.
He added that the Garda also had to retain some responsibility for ensuring it investigated corruption and criminality in the organisation.