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Investigator will listen to 999 calls at centre of garda controversy

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Commissioner Drew Harris apologised for failings. Picture by Liam McBurney

Commissioner Drew Harris apologised for failings. Picture by Liam McBurney

Commissioner Drew Harris apologised for failings. Picture by Liam McBurney

An independent investigator into the Garda 999 cancelled calls controversy is expected to be allowed listen to a sample of the emergency calls following legal advice.

Derek Penman, a former assistant chief constable of Police Scotland, was appointed last July by the Policing Authority to carry out a full independent report into the matter.

His interim report, published on November 30, found information provided by callers was not accurately recorded and gardaí were sent to the wrong locations.

The review also found supervision, quality control and procedures for managing people were either not followed, not effective or weak.

However, Mr Penman has not yet been able to listen to the cancelled calls, mainly because of GDPR issues.

An Garda Síochána and the Policing Authority sought legal advice in relation to this. This legal advice has now been submitted and it is understood it gives Mr Penman the “green light” to listen to a sample of the cancelled calls.

A security source explained: “There was a legal issue in terms of GDPR. When people make an emergency 999 call they are entitled for that to be a private correspondence. That was what stopped Mr Penman being able to have access to the calls up until now. But following legal advice, the belief is that this issue can be overcome and he will be permitted access to listen to a sample of the calls.”

When contacted, the Policing Authority confirmed it had received legal advice and was considering it.

“Legal advice has been received and was given preliminary consideration by the Authority and the Garda Síochána shortly before Christmas. It is envisaged that further, more detailed consideration of the advice will be undertaken over the coming weeks,” said a spokeswoman.

There is no timeline for the completion of Mr Penman’s report due to the legal wrangling over access to phone recordings.  

This newspaper previously revealed two garda whistleblowers have now provided “key intelligence” which has formed a major part of investigations.

In late November, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris was extensively quizzed over the controversy by the Policing Authority following the publication of the interim report. 

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Mr Harris said the force accepts the findings in the interim report but some recommendations will take longer and more consideration to implement than others.

On November 30, Mr Harris once again apologised at the Policing Authority meeting for what he said were garda failings to provide the level of policing service that is expected. 

In his interim report, Mr Penman said the terms of reference establishing his review envisaged access would be granted to the call recordings.

“Due to legal issues, access has not yet been provided and therefore it has not been possible to check if call takers entered calls accurately, nor confirm if critical procedures were followed,” he explained.

The controversy began after it was discovered more than 200,000 emergency calls between 2019 and 2020 — over 3,000 of which related to domestic violence — had been improperly cancelled.

Mr Harris has said gardaí had unearthed just two incidents of particular concern, but the Policing Authority interim review found incidents where “information provided by callers was not accurately recorded” and this meant gardaí were “dispatched to the wrong locations”.

The report did not specify how often this happened. It also found “callers could not be re-contacted”, some “remain unidentified” and therefore the gardaí were “unable to provide a service”.

Mr Harris said he welcomed the interim report’s finding that the gardaí had responded promptly to the issue, had conducted a deep, victim-based review and had been consistent when dealing with the most vulnerable, illustrating a compassionate approach.

Mr Harris said the issue arose because of a variety of reasons, including the pressure of work, people’s behaviour and a lack of governance, checking and supervision. He said while no calls went unanswered, it was when they were converted to incidents that they were being cancelled “and that’s where our problem lies”.


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