Detective acquitted of forging DPP letter loses bid to halt disciplinary inquiry

Detective acquitted of forging DPP letter loses bid to halt disciplinary inquiry
Detective Garda Catherine McGowan

A Detective Garda acquitted of forging a letter from the DPP in relation to the investigation of an allegation of sexual abuse against a priest has lost her appeal aimed at halting a disciplinary inquiry.

A three-judge Court of Appeal upheld a High Court decision rejecting claims by Detective Garda Catherine McGowan, attached to Bray Garda Station, she should not be subject to a disciplinary inquiry as she was acquitted in a criminal process in 2015.

Appeal Court president Mr Justice George Birmingham said the alleged disciplinary breaches could be regarded as a serious failure to discharge the duties of a Garda and it was "entirely understandable" there would be a wish to inquire into these "matters of substance".

Outlining the background, he said the matter dated back to 2005 when a complaint was made by a woman to the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin alleging she was sexually abused in the 1980s by a priest.

The archdiocese notified the complaint to gardaí and it was passed to Bray district for investigation. The woman then withdrew the complaint but renewed it in 2007.

Det McGowan was assigned to investigate it and her alleged failure to do so was the subject matter of the disciplinary inquiry, ordered by the Garda Commissioner in June 2015. Separately, a criminal investigation was commenced which ultimately led to Det McGowan being charged and acquitted, by unanimous verdict by a Circuit Criminal Court jury.

She was acquitted of one count of forgery on January 15, 2009 at Bray Garda Station and two counts of using a false instrument at Bray Garda Station and at Harcourt Street Garda Station between June 21 and 22, 2011.

The instrument was alleged to have been a letter from the office of the DPP, dated January 14 2009, which prosecutors alleged Det McGowan forged to “hoodwink” gardaí reviewing whether she acted properly in investigating the allegation of sexual abuse.

In High Court judicial review proceedings, Det McGowan sought to halt the disciplinary inquiry but, in a November 2017 judgment, Mr Justice Michael White refused to do so.

He disagreed the disciplinary inquiry was based on the same subject matter as her Circuit Court criminal trial and said the "serious" issues raised in the inquiry "go to the heart of responsible policing".

There was a "much wider" allegation of breach of discipline against Det McGowan alleging she did not do her job properly as a member of the Garda, neglected to pursue a serious complaint and, to overcome her failure, attempted to deflect it by covering up her mismanagement of the file, the High Court held.

Dismissing the appeal, Mr Justice Birmingham said there was a "significant" development during the appeal hearing.

He said counsel for Det McGowan, while insisting some of the allegations could not go before the disciplinary inquiry, had acknowledged there was a difficulty in contending other allegations - failure to create a record on PULSE and failure to engage in correspondence with relevant solicitors - could not be proceeded with before the inquiry.

He said the High Court's assessment there were many issues within the allegations of neglect of duty and discreditable conduct that could never have been the subject of criminal allegations against Det McGowan, but which could otherwise be regarded as a serious failure to discharge the duties of a Garda, was "a realistic one".

While there was a shared factual background with the charges before the Circuit Court, it does not follow the breaches of discipline concern the same issues simply because they shared a common place of origin, he said.

He stressed he was expressing no view whether the alleged breaches of discipline will be made out but rather saying the inquiry should not be prevented from considering them.

He rejected further arguments there was an obligation to provide reasons to Det McGowan as to why the inquiry was being established. The reason was "obvious", it was because the Garda Comissioner considered the inquiry would not be into the same issues in respect of which Det McGowan was acquitted and it would not be unfair to commence the inquiry.

He also dismissed a cross-appeal by the defendants against the High Court's decision allowing the applicant amend her claim to allow additional grounds be argued.

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