Friday 23 August 2019

Minister: Some road crash investigations were unsatisfactory

Frances Fitzgerald: Concerns at investigation shortcomings
Frances Fitzgerald: Concerns at investigation shortcomings
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The investigation by gardaí of some road traffic collisions has been "unsatisfactory", according to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

The minister's admission came in a letter to Susan Gray, the widow of a hackney driver who was knocked down and killed on the side of a road as he collected a fare.

Stephen Gray's death in December 2004 was one of 319 cases referred by Ms Fitzgerald to a panel of barristers for review last year following allegations of Garda misconduct.

The Independent Review Mechanism, which was established in response to the Guerin Report, was charged with assessing whether any of these cases should be the subject of a commission of investigation.

While the review noted there were failures in the Garda investigation into Mr Gray's death, it ruled out referring the case to a commission.

In a letter to Ms Gray explaining the decision, a Department of Justice official said that Ms Fitzgerald was concerned at shortcomings in investigations of fatal crashes.

"The minister has asked me to let you know that she is concerned that the investigation of fatalities arising from road traffic collisions have proved unsatisfactory and that this has compounded the hurt and distress occasioned to those bereaved," the letter stated. "The minister has asked me to say that the distress caused to you and your family is regretted."

The letter added that notwithstanding the GSOC findings, it was not possible to conclude that Mr Gray's death was anything other than a tragic accident.

Susan Gray set up a road safety group, PARC, in the aftermath of her husband's death.

She has campaigned for the past decade for the proper enforcement of road traffic legislation.

Ms Gray complained to the Justice Minister 16 months ago about the manner in which her husband's death on the Inishowen Peninsula in Co Donegal was investigated, the conduct of a Garda review of the initial investigation and the role of the then Garda Commissioner.

The Independent Review Mechanism outlined how a report by the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) found "manifest inadequacies" in the Garda probe.

Opportunities to gather evidence were missed and no forensic collision investigation was carried out at the scene.

No technical examinations of either Mr Gray's vehicle or that of the motorist who knocked him down were conducted, other than a simple service check.

It also transpired that the driver involved, Michael McColgan, was not breathalysed.

McColgan ended up being prosecuted for driving with no L-plates or road tax.

An inquest heard that McColgan had drunk two bottles of beer earlier that evening.

However, a Garda on the scene, Seamus Lyons, formed the opinion that McColgan had not taken an intoxicant.

The GSOC report found that Garda Lyons had received inadequate support from Garda authorities and that the local sergeant, Michael Murray, had remained on the scene for less than an hour.

The letter to Ms Gray said that as GSOC had already investigated many of her concerns, the review did not recommend Ms Fitzgerald take further action.

Ms Gray said she was "very disappointed" with the reply, that it provided "no comfort" and that she believed her complaint should have been referred to a commission of investigation.

Ms Gray also questioned the purpose of the Independent Review Mechanism when most of the allegations she had made were "ignored".

She said the Justice Minister had failed to explain why gardaí had failed to provide GSOC with certain documents that they requested.

"I got no justice in this country for my husband and, going by the minister's letter, I am not the only one," she said.

Irish Independent

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