herald

Saturday 3 December 2016

Six-year backlog sees a number of child abuse cases dropped

Minister Frances Fitzgerald
Minister Frances Fitzgerald

Severe delays in dealing with computer crime has resulted in a number of online child abuse cases being dropped.

A backlog of up to six years has been created due to shortages in staff and investigative technology.

The severe time-gap has seen the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) instruct some cases - which date back as far as 2010 - to be dropped.

Gardai have said that these relate to only to a handful of cases while a couple of dozen cases date back to 2011.

Senior Garda officers are confident that the backlog will be reduced to two years by the end of 2016.

This is regarded as an acceptable period within the legal framework and will not interfere with potential prosecutions.

Officers are reluctant to reveal figures but admit that the relevant unit has been swamped by a huge growth in the internet crime area, including complaints about child abuse, in recent years.

A special investigation has shown that this comes without the matching increases in resources required to deal with the overload of cases.

Shortfall

They said they must prioritise cases at present to ensure that the most serious and urgent inquiries are dealt with immediately and staff are at full stretch to limit the impact of the shortfall in numbers.

It is expected that additional staff will be allocated by the autumn to the Computer Crime Investigation Unit (CCIU).

Its role is to investigate cybercrime, take part in international liaison with other law enforcement agencies and forensically examine all seized computer devices for a wide range of criminal cases. This includes child abuse and child porn.

A senior Garda officer said the CCIU had been in existence for more than 20 years and had achieved many successes in detecting crimes such as computer-related fraud, online paedophilia and illegal trading over the dark web.

Those successes include playing a key role in solving high-profile cases such as the Graham Dwyer investigation.

It is expected that some of the €200m investment promised by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to install new IT systems in the force will be allocated towards combating online crime.

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