Monday 23 April 2018

Garda acquitted of forging a letter from the DPP over an allegation of sexual abuse against a priest fails to halt a disciplinary inquiry

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Aodhan O'Faolain

A detective garda acquitted of forging a letter from the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to the investigation of an allegation of sexual abuse against a priest has failed to get High Court orders halting a disciplinary inquiry.

Mr Justice Michael White rejected arguments by Detective Garda Catherine McGowan, attached to Bray Garda Station, she should not be subject to a disciplinary inquiry as she was acquitted in a criminal process in 2015.

This was not a case where the subject matter of the earlier criminal trial mirrors closely the disciplinary process, he said. The "serious" issues raised in the inquiry "go to the heart of responsible policing".

There was a "much wider" allegation of breach of discipline against Det McGowan alleging she did not do her job properly as a member of the Garda, neglected to pursue a serious complaint and, to overcome her failure, attempted to deflect it by covering up her mismanagement of the file, he said.

He accepted the criminal trial and attendant publicity was a "severe ordeal" but the conduct of individual gardai can be legally scrutinised in a disciplinary hearing, the judge said. There was "no question" of double jeopardy as the issues went much wider than the "narrow focus" of the criminal trial where her innocence was established.

It was “self-evident” from the notice of inquiry served on Det McGowan many issues in the allegations of neglect of duty and discreditable conduct could never be subject of a criminal allegation against her “but could be regarded as a serious failure to discharge her duties as a member of the Garda Siochana”.

It is essential the disciplinary procedures are fair and the relevant member knows exactly what has been alleged against them but, once that was done, it was not necessary to give, as the applicant's lawyers had argued, detailed reasons why a decision was made to proceed with the inquiry despite an acquittal in criminal proceedings, he ruled. The relevant garda regulations  provide for such an inquiry.

He ruled Det McGowan was not entitled to orders quashing the Garda Commissioner’s June 2015 decision to set up a board of inquiry into alleged breaches of discipline. Those include neglect of duty in allegedly failing to properly investigate an allegation of defilement of a child aged between 15-17 years made by a named woman and reported to the Garda in February 2007.

There were also allegations of discreditable conduct, including Det McGowan had wrongly informed the complainant, a representative of the Archdiocese of Dublin and the Murphy Report Inquiry Team (which investigated clerical sex abuse in the Dublin area) the DPP had given an instruction not to prosecute when, it is alleged, she knew that was not the case.

Other allegations included of falsehood, including alleging Det McGowan made or procured to be made two documents purporting to be signed by other gardai which she knew were false and misleading.

Earlier, outlining the background, the judge said a complaint was made by a woman in 2005 to the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin alleging she was sexually abused in the 1980s by a priest. The archdiocese notified the complaint to gardai and it was passed to Bray district for investigation. The woman then withdrew the complaint but renewed it in 2007. Det McGowan was assigned to investigate it and her alleged failure to do so was the subject matter of the disciplinary inquiry.

Separate from the disciplinary procedure, a criminal investigation was commenced which ultimately led to Det McGowan being charged and acquitted, by unanimous jury verdict, of one count of forgery on January 15th, 2009 at Bray Garda Station and two counts of using a false instrument at Bray Garda Station and at Harcourt Street Garda Station between June 21st and 22st, 2011. The instrument was alleged to have been a letter from the office of the DPP, dated January 14th, 2009 which prosecutors alleged Det McGowan forged to “hoodwink” gardaí reviewing whether she acted properly in investigating the allegation of sexual abuse.

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