herald

Thursday 14 December 2017

Penalty points system abused by hundreds of gardai, watchdog finds

Whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe
Whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe

Hundreds of gardai were involved in widespread exploitation of the penalty points system, which saw them wipe fines and points for friends and relatives.

The Garda Ombudsman found one officer cancelled 744 fixed charge notices across 17 counties during the four years it examined.

The watchdog said superintendents and inspectors wiped points and fines for driving offences outside their geographical area, contrary to policy.

Almost three-quarters of the records of notices being cancelled did not carry any sufficient rationale for the action.

Some 442 officers were authorised to wipe fixed charge notices in the four years from 2009 to 2012, the report found.

The Garda Ombudsman also found that some serving gardai used the credentials of retired senior colleagues in order to wipe the slate clean for friends and relatives.

The report is the latest in a long line of reviews of the scandal that was exposed by whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

The Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) said it received data relating to the issuing of 1.6 million fixed charge notices and 74,373 cancellations of penalties and fines.

Failures

The watchdog met Mr McCabe five times during its investigation.

Gsoc said it also examined previous reports on the controversy, including the internal report by Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahoney, the review of revenue issues by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Garda Siochana Inspectorate. All identified systemic failures.

Gsoc said it will not be investigating individual officers for potential criminality or disciplinary issues as the bill for that has been estimated to run to more than a million euro.

"The Ombudsman Commission believes that the considerable cost to the public of continuing our investigation into a second phase - of investigating specific cancellations with a view to identifying possible behaviour of a criminal nature or constituting a breach of discipline - would outweigh the benefit," said the watchdog.

Gsoc also warned its work would be hampered by a lack of supporting documentation for large portions of the cancellations.

It said there is no possibility of recovering fines or otherwise sanctioning motorists who may have had fixed charge notices cancelled improperly.

The report said too many gardai were authorised to cancel the notices. It noted a "sizeable" volume of cancellations with no reason or supporting documentation.

There were multiple cancellations for the same people and the same vehicles, with no apparent checks undertaken beforehand.

In a statement, An Garda Siochana said it recognised there were systemic flaws and some members were using it inappropriately.

It thanked Mr McCabe for his valuable role in reforming the system and said measures had been introduced to ensure such issues could not arise again.

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