PJ Browne: Whitty case shows heavy hand of garda watchdog
The Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission is a good thing for the Garda Siochana, but some of their tactics are questionable, in my opinion.
If members of the public are arrested, they rightly expect to be treated with fair play. And if they do not receive it, they are entitled to complain and have their case investigated fully. Whether your complaint is vindicated or not, at least you have been given fair play. I wonder does the same apply when an allegation is levelled at a garda?
In a recent case the GSOC failed to disclose to the defence what a complainant said when arrested many months after he made his original complaint. Why? What were they hiding? The case was aborted because of this failure.
Now we have the case of Garda Brendan Whitty, charged with and acquitted of assault causing harm. It is my understanding that the following occurred in this case.
One investigator from the GSOC threw a set of photographs on an interview room table of a dead man on a mortuary slab and said what "what do you think of that?"
In the days before the Whitty case concluded, the GSOC was asked by the judge to prove that the photographs of the man on the mortuary slab were of the same man allegedly assaulted by Garda Whitty. Something as basic as this -- continuity of evidence -- would be one of the first things to be done in a routine investigation carried by the gardai themselves. But what occurred next is worrying.
After the judge's direction to prove the photographs, an investigator working on behalf of GSOC entered Kevin Street Garda Station and demanded the mobile phone numbers of a number of gardai.
My understanding is that this investigator then rang the officers and left a message to state that if the calls were not returned within one hour it would be treated as a refusal to co-operate with the commission and would cause a file to be sent to the DPP.
The investigator in question was not even a member of the GSOC, to my knowledge.
He may have acted within the letter of the law but the manner in which he conducted his inquiries was clearly heavy-handed.
The Whitty case has raised concerns about this perceived heavy-handedness on the part of the GSOC. It's not the only instance I have heard of. The Garda Siochana do not mind strict accountability but, like all other citizens, officers are entitled to the protections of the law of the land. Correct rules of gathering evidence have to be adhered to in full.
PJ Browne is a former detective superintendent, with 37 years' service