Backlog in cybercrime including child abuse dates back two years
A backlog in cybercrime cases, including online child abuse, still dates back to 2016 despite inroads made by gardaí in recent months.
A judge last year criticised a delay in dealing with a case involving a seizure containing sexually explicit images of children as unhealthy after he heard that the Garda search had been carried out in 2009.
Gardaí said the unit had been swamped by a huge growth in the internet crime area, including complaints about child abuse in recent years without the matching increase in resources necessary to deal with the overload.
By the end of March, it is expected the backlog will have been reduced to cases dating from 2016 and 2017.
This is due to additional resources allocated to the Garda National cybercrime bureau.
Earlier this week, the father of one of the victims of paedophile Matthew Horan, who sexually exploited girls as young as nine online, praised gardaí for the difficult work they faced during the investigation.
"To the guards that spoke to me over the last two years I want to say thank you for all you have done, as to catch people like Matthew Horan, all this material has to be looked at. This is an incredible thing to have to do and go home to a normal life. Respect to all of you for your dedication," he said in a statement.
Gardaí are planning to open two regional cybercrime units in the south east and southern regions this year and these, officers say, should further reduce the delays.
Since 2014, the backlog has been halved and the establishment late last year of a dedicated cybercrime investigation unit has been a key factor in speeding up the inquiries.
Senior officers anticipate that the backlog will have been totally eliminated, apart from normal waiting time, by the second half of next year.
Cases are assessed and prioritised based on a variety of criteria ranging from the type of crime involved, to the age of the victim, contact offence, sex offenders or organised crime links, or where cases are time critical.
"As cases are prioritised on an ongoing basis, the current year cases may take priority over previous year cases", one officer said. The role of the unit is to investigate cybercrime, take part in international liaison with other law enforcement agencies and forensically examine all seized computer devices.
Det Supt Michael Gubbins said the Garda and its partners in Europol were actively targeting crimes such as online fraud and the public should be aware the proceeds from those activities funded organised crime.
He pointed out that 79pc of people shopping online did not experience any problems and card fraud in this country had fallen to €16.6m gross in the first six months of last year.