Saturday 17 August 2019

Review of 41 death cases shows errors on Garda database

Customs and revenue offences not listed on Pulse system

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Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

A review of how 41 suspicious deaths were classified and investigated by gardai has exposed serious flaws in the force's intelligence database and also investigative shortcomings.

The review found that the Garda vetting system has been put at risk by an error that allows multiple Pulse files to be opened on the same person, according to informed sources. It meant that some incidents listed on the Pulse file could be missed in Garda vetting and was highlighted as an issue requiring "urgent" action.

The review questioned the accuracy of convictions handed down by the higher criminal courts, which it said were not being recorded on the Pulse system in a timely or consistent fashion. It also highlighted how convictions for Revenue offences, customs breaches and environmental offences are not being recorded on the Pulse system at all - a caveat that should be clearly stated on all Garda vetting certificates, the report found.

There was a risk that the true extent of domestic violence was not being captured because of a lack of clarity over listing it as a motive for crime on the Pulse system. A similar principle applied to hate crimes, with the review recommending that potential motives such as racial or sexual be included as options open to gardai entering data on the system.

The review also found that dead people are not being recorded as 'deceased' on the internal database. In some cases, intelligence had been mistakenly entered on the Pulse file of someone who was no longer alive.

The flaws on the database were highlighted in the course of a review of homicides and deaths led by Chief Superintendent Brian Sutton.

The review was ordered by the then commissioner to ensure that the suspicious deaths had been properly categorised on the Pulse system and properly investigated. He did so after two crime analysts in the force challenged the way homicides were being classified and counted.

The overall findings of the review of 41 cases are not known, but informed sources say the indications are that most were correctly investigated but with shortcomings in some cases.

Reports on each of the 41 deaths and homicides have been despatched to the Garda divisions that investigated the killings, along with recommendations in each case. A separate report outlining 20 recommendations has been given to the Garda Commissioner and the Policing Authority.

Shortcomings in investigations included incomplete job books - which log the tasks to be completed in any investigation; delays in taking statements from key witnesses; no evidence that house-to-house calls had been closed out; and gardai not accompanying people who died in suspicious circumstances in ambulances to ensure that evidence is protected.

The recommendations are believed to include wide-ranging and costly improvements to the Pulse system, such as broadening the data allowable in some instances and restricting it in others.

The integrity of Garda crime statistics has come under intense scrutiny in recent years, with the Policing Authority and the Central Statistics Office repeatedly challenging the quality of the force's data. The CSO now publishes crime data "with reservations".

Sunday Independent

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