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Angry clashes over officer case

The Garda Ombudsman and Garda Representative Authority (GRA) have clashed angrily after the acquittal of an officer on assault charges and claims that the watchdog ran an excessive and oppressive investigation.

The GRA levelled a string of fierce accusations at the oversight body after Garda Brendan Whitty was cleared of baton-whipping a drug user in an arrest hours before he died.

The officer, based at Kevin Street station in Dublin, has been fighting assault charges for three years since Keith Murphy was detained on Thomas Street in the capital on September 20 2007.

GRA president Damien McCarthy said another garda, called as a witness for the State, has demanded an inquiry into the Ombudsman's investigation.

"We believe this case highlights a core reason why members of the Garda Siochana have become reluctant to draw their batons or incapacitant spray, through apprehension of excessive investigation," he said.

"To my knowledge, not one member of the force has refused to co-operate with any GSOC investigation to date. This should be of grave concern for the citizens of this country as it hampers operational policing.

"Gardai face great danger and remain unarmed; they must have protection from excessive and indeed oppressive investigation."

Concerns have been raised about the manner in which two Ombudsman investigators operated during the inquiry and its legal authority.

The Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) denied any wrongdoing and insisted the investigation was carried out within the rules after a request from the Commissioner.

It said the law should apply to everyone and it fully respects Garda Whitty's acquittal yesterday by a jury.

The Ombudsman said it had asked officers to co-operate with the investigation.

"GSOC would expect that such co-operation would be forthcoming, particularly from members of the Garda Siochana at all times," the Ombudsman's office said in a statement.

"If such co-operation is not forthcoming, GSOC has to rely on such powers as are provided by the Garda Siochana Act 2005."

It said it has lawful authority to investigate officers under the legislation.

"GSOC rejects any suggestion by the GRA that, in collecting evidence at the request of counsel for the State in a trial before the courts, it exceeded these powers," it added.

The Ombudsman said it launched an investigation at the Commissioner's request and that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) recommended charging the officer before a jury cleared him.

A spokesman said this is the essence of Garda accountability in a modern policing environment.

The Department of Justice has received a letter of complaint from a Garda officer and a spokeswoman said the calls for an inquiry were being considered.

The GRA said it has also written to the DPP to seek legal clarity over issues raised in the case.

Garda Whitty had been accused of assault causing harm. He denied in court using excessive force and explained that he did not report drawing his baton before clocking off for the night as he did not think it that important.

He also rejected claims he used too much force, claiming it was enough to protect himself.

Mr McCarthy added: "Garda Whitty was unanimously cleared of assault charges, though he endured a protracted investigation and prosecution."

The Ombudsman's office later confirmed the DPP has directed prosecutions for 33 Garda officers as a result of GSOC investigations in the three-and-a-half years since it began operating.

PA Media