Thursday 22 February 2018

Commission found dark questions that judge was unable to answer

While the suspicion might be that there was some grand conspiracy at play, the judge found otherwise (Stock picture)
While the suspicion might be that there was some grand conspiracy at play, the judge found otherwise (Stock picture)
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Some of the conclusions of the Fennelly Commission would be scarcely believable had they not been reached by an experienced judge.

A central finding of the 740-page report is that Garda management over the course of 18 years were "almost totally ignorant" of the fact phone calls were being recorded illegally at major garda stations.

Five commissioners came and went in that time until a stop was put to the practice by then commissioner Martin Callinan in 2013.

The force began recording telephone calls some time before 1980.

Originally intended for the recording of 999 calls, bomb threats, and code word messages, the illegal recording of non-999 calls would also became a widespread practice.

This started in 1995 when, as a result of an upgrade of the recording system, greater capacity was added and recording on non-999 lines appeared to become part of the system.

A significant policy shift in terms of recording calls other than 999 calls was now established.

This occurred under the noses of seemingly oblivious Garda management - something which greatly surprised Mr Justice Nial Fennelly.

While the suspicion might be that there was some grand conspiracy at play, the judge found otherwise.

The picture painted in his report is of a disorganised, dysfunctional and poorly managed force, but not a corrupt one.

The history of Garda telephone recording was one "beset from its beginnings by misunderstanding, poor communication, imperfect information and a sequence of errors rather than any conspiracy", he found.

The judge concluded that the phone recording systems were not used for snooping, spying or intruding on private lives.

He also found that while solicitor/client phone calls were recorded in three garda stations, evidence indicated that such recordings were inadvertent.

While the judge took a benign view of the overall circumstances of the recordings, it is clear his investigation was limited by what was available to him.

Throughout the report there are caveats about the fact he had to rely on available evidence and documentation.

It is undoubted that there are many dark questions the judge could not answer because he did not have the materials available to him to do so.

Perhaps the darkest questions relate to recordings made at Bandon Garda Station in west Cork.

The "discovery" of the existence of the recording system had its genesis in a legal action taken by former murder suspect Ian Bailey, in which he unsuccessfully alleged misconduct by gardaí who investigated the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier. Tapes of many calls involving investigating gardaí in Bandon emerged as part of the discovery process for that case.

We now know that they involved discussions where gardaí contemplated altering, modifying or suppressing evidence that did not further the belief Mr Bailey was the killer.

Irish Independent

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