In a year of horrific gangland crimes, Garda successes against the Kinahan cartel and continuing tumult for the Garda organisation, violence against women dominated the year in crime and policing, writes Security Correspondent Cormac O’Keeffe.
IT WAS a year dominated with the issue of violence against women.
However, 2018 was also a year of mounting Garda successes against the country’s top crime cartel, but set against the backdrop of ongoing, and fresh, feuds and a resurgent drugs trade. And it was yet another year of policing crises, damning inquiries and court rulings — but with promises of change, with a new commissioner, the report of the Policing Commission and government plans to implement the reforms.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
In a year of continuing violence against women, May was a particularly grim month. Jastine Valdez was abducted as she walked home in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow. Witnesses saw a woman being bundled into a vehicle. The body of the 24-year-old was found on May 20.
Jastine’s abductor and killer, Mark Hennessy, a husband and father, was shot dead by an armed detective at a south Dublin industrial estate after a manhunt — a matter currently under Gsoc investigation.
Historical cases were resurrected, including the Kerry Babies case, with a new investigation into the murder of Baby John, who was found washed up on a Kerry beach 33 years ago.
Fresh leads also emerged in the abduction and murder of 18-year-old Deirdre Jacob from outside her Kildare home 20 years ago — with one of the country’s most notorious rapists a top suspect.
The case of Marie Tierney, murdered some 34 years ago, was reviewed after gardaí in Kilkenny conducted a fresh investigation, leading to the exhumation in late October of her remains in order to conduct DNA tests using modern technology. Gardaí have a key suspect in mind.
The year seemed to provide a seemingly endless number of shocking cases documenting sexual violence against women.
These included the case of Eoin Berkeley, who lured an 18-year-old Spanish student, not long in the country, from Dublin city centre to his tent out by Ringsend. There he subjected her to repeated rape over 21 hours, during which he threatened to kill the young woman.
In November, he was sentenced to 14 years, in a case that highlighted, yet again, issues regarding the bail system — now the subject of a Garda review — and mental health services.
Then there were the various cases concerning serial sex offender, Patrick Nevin. In all cases, he met the women through the Tinder dating app and the attacks took place within 11 days of each other in July 2014.
Last month, he was convicted for sexually assaulting a Brazilian student. Next May he is due to be sentenced, after pleading guilty, for raping a second woman and sexually assaulting a third.
In mid-November, Leona O’Callaghan broke her anonymity so Patrick O’Dea from Pike Avenue, Limerick, could be named in media reports. She read out a powerful victim impact statement and spoke movingly to media after the case finished.
O’Dea was jailed for 17 years after he raped Ms O’Callaghan at age 13 in a graveyard before continuing to rape her.
Statistics during the year pointed to an increase in reported sexual assaults. In March, the CSO published a review increasing the actual sexual offences by 17% over the last 14 years, including a 28% jump in rapes.
Last month, Women’s Aid reported in its annual Femicide Watch that 225 women died violently in Ireland since 1996, including seven to date this year. A further 16 children were killed alongside their mothers.
In 56% of cases, the perpetrator was an intimate partner of the victim, while an additional 11% of victims were killed by a male relative. A further 20% were killed by a man known to them.
Also, at the end of November, Lavina Kerwick spoke at the launch of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, at which she said the justice system continues to fail victims.
She was 19 when she was raped by her former boyfriend on New Year’s Eve in 1991 — for which he received a suspended sentence.
The issue of sexual violence was raised in a number of reported incidents this month, one allegedly involving a sports celebrity, a second where the victim was a tourist in Dublin city centre and a third involving a woman allegedly attacked as she took a taxi home after a Christmas work party.
CSO figures published this month (with a caution attached to the Garda data) show a 12% rise for the year ending last September in recorded sexual offences, including a 17% increase in rapes.
A separate review conducted by the CSO found that just 5% of sexual violence which Garda information indicates was motivated by domestic abuse was properly recorded as a domestic violence crime.
The other constant during the year was organised crime, with gangland murders bookending 2018.
The year started with the threat of another high body count in the Kinahan-Hutch feud with the double murders within days of Derek Hutch and his friend Jason Molyneux.
Derek Hutch, shot dead on January 20, became the fourth member of the wider Hutch family to be gunned down. Molyneux was shot dead in Dublin’s north inner city just hours after attending Hutch’s removal on January 30.
The murders, again, placed the local community under the kosh of Kinahan cartel intimidation and fear.
High-profile armed garda patrols have continued in the north inner city (despite budgetary pressures) as they have in the south inner city and the Crumlin/Drimnagh area — the base of the Kinahan cartel.
The scale of the threat from this feud and other ones were laid bare at Dublin’s Joint Policing Committee in May where Assistant Commissioner Pat Leahy revealed there were 522 “live” threats to life across the city.
Some 11 of these were “critical”, 51 severe and 171 substantial — highlighting the scale of the task confronting gardaí.
In the summer, and following another successful assassination intervention, Assistant Commissioner Special Crime Operations, John O’Driscoll, said gardaí had saved 54 lives since February 2016.
The impact of gangland killings turned away from the Kinahan cartel in early June when a gunman walked into a packed gym session in Bray, Co Wicklow, and opened fire, killing a completely innocent man.
Bobby Messett, a father, suffered traumatic injuries to his head in an attack gardaí believe was aimed at boxing coach Pete Taylor, dad of Katie Taylor. He received a gunshot injury to his arm.
Later that month came a shocking attack at the Cork home of Polish couple Mikolaj Wilk and his wife Elzbieta, in which Mikolaj was hacked to death.
Their two young children were also in their Ballincollig house at the time.
Detectives suspect a Lithuanian gang, assisted by local spotters, were behind the savage murder. The motive is not yet clear but could be linked to a row over a debt or a personal grievance.
In July, in what was their fifth time before the courts, Securicor worker Paul Richardson and his wife Marie eventually got justice.
A four-man gang, led by Coolock criminal Mark Farrelly, received a total of 53 years for the ordeal-at-gunpoint they put the couple and their two sons through.
In October, Robert Sheridan, aged 45 and a father of two, was gunned down as he answered a knock to his door on Poppintree Crescent, Ballymun, in what has been described as a feud with a drug-dealing gang.
The Ballymun area is experiencing a number of feuds. In August 2017, two innocent people, mum Antoinette Corbally, aged 48, and Clinton Corbally, were shot dead in Ballymun in a gun attack aimed at Ms Corbally’s brother, Derek Devoy.
In mid-November, it appeared the Kinahan cartel had struck again with the gangland gun murder of Clive Staunton, aged 50.
The father, originally from Dublin’s north inner city, was shot dead as he arrived at his detached home in an upmarket estate in Leixlip, Co Kildare.
Despite initial reports linking it to the Kinahan-Hutch feud, senior officers suspect it could be connected to a feud with serious criminals involved in the lucrative cigarette smuggling trade.
Also in mid-November, a feud centred around Drogheda, Co Louth, erupted into violence.
Two gangs, both involved in the drugs trade, engaged in retaliatory acts of violence, with some seven incidents over the space of a few days.
This included a number of bomb attacks and the torture by a gang of a young man, saved only by gardaí.
Such was the scale of the threat that all Garda leave was cancelled and stringent national controls on overtime eased.
Earlier this month, events escalated with reports of threats from a gang member against two gardaí investigating the violence. A pipe bomb was also discovered in the Drogheda during a drugs search.
There were reports of how local families were being intimidated by the gangs over drug debts owed by loved ones — a story replicated across much of the country over many years.
The drugs trade appeared to witness a further boom during the year, particularly in the trafficking of cocaine with seizures of over 100kg of cocaine in the last two months alone.
Last August, 133kg of cocaine was found inside a container of a ship in Costa Rica that was bound for Cork — in a shipment organised, at least in part, by the Kinahan crime cartel.
These seizures are on the back of a 90% jump in cocaine treatment figures and a doubling in cocaine-related deaths in recent years.
European expert bodies have identified increased production in South America, more international gangs involved in trafficking, an increase in purity, a rise in disposable income and new methods of sale at local level as factors being the growth.
This trend is reflected in a 6% rise this year in drug supply offences and related gangland indicators, including a 2% rise in shootings and a 36% jump in threats of murder.
Actions against the ill-gotten gains of drug lords and crime bosses also appeared to pick up during the year — including the high-profile action by the Criminal Assets Bureau targeting the considerable wealth (and power) of the Byrne Organised Crime Group, the branch of the Kinahan cartel in Ireland and Britain.
These assets included properties, some of them secured like fortresses and boasting luxurious interiors, in a small circle of Crumlin, south Dublin.
CAB actions expanded beyond this upper echelon to the lower levels of the organisation.
These actions were often conducted in combination with the Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau and its sister unit, the Special Crime Task Force.
CAB made a point of highlighting their work against local bosses as well this year, with the agency conducting a nationwide tour of counties, through the local policing committees.
Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Clavin of CAB said that the number of cases from local asset profilers more than doubled, from 66 in 2016, to 101 in 2017 and to 153 so far this year.
In total, CAB now has 973 targets — a rise of 60% on the previous year.
As well as the civil courts, through with CAB operates, gardaí secured mounting successes against the Kinahan cartel in the criminal courts.
This included a trio of convictions — secured by detectives from the Dublin North Central Division — for the murder of Gareth Hutch (nephew of the ‘The Monk’) in the north inner city in May 2016.
One of those convicted by the non-jury Special Criminal Court included Jonathan Keogh, a senior associate of the cartel.
Freddie Thompson became the most senior member of cartel to be convicted of murder — in his case over the shooting dead of Daithi Douglas in the south inner city in July 2016. The Special Criminal Court praised the investigative work of the gardaí in the case.
Other high profile cartel killers convicted (in the Special Criminal Court) included Eamon Cumberton for the murder of Michael Barr in the Sunset House pub in the north inner city in April 2016.
And this month, Estonian hitman Imre Arakas was convicted of conspiring to murder Hutch target, James Gately, in April 2017. He had been contracted by the Kinahan cartel in a complex murder plot.
There are further high-profile cases before the courts as well as a succession of convictions for drugs and firearms offences.
Proof that the threat of Kinahan violence is never far away emerged this month when a sophisticated hoax bomb was left outside the home, on Dorset Street, in the north inner city, of an innocent member of the wider Hutch family. The woman is a close relation of murdered Gareth Hutch and she previously had a car belonging to her set alight.
Then, just before Christmas, Eric Fowler was shot dead as he arrived home in Blanchardstown, west Dublin on December 22.
The 34-year-old was related to a deceased associate of the Hutch outfit but also had criminal connections with the Kinahan cartel, so detectives will investigate all angles of that inquiry. Officers said the murder could be linked to a local criminal matter. Whatever the motive, it underlined the continuing threat from gangland.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a policing review of the year without plenty of controversies and crises. And 2018 did not fail to deliver on that front.
The Disclosure Tribunal almost bookended the year in terms of its devastating impact on the reputation of An Garda Síochána – as well as Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.
Sergeant Maurice McCabe spoke at the tribunal at the start of the year — and by October had been vindicated by Mr Justice Peter Charleton.
In between, we heard from former garda commissioners Nóirín O’Sullivan and Martin Callinan and former garda press officer David Taylor and a whole host of other key witnesses, not least Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy and Fianna Fáil TD and former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee John McGuinness.
Seeing in print, in the finding of a judicial inquiry, that a former commissioner, as in Martin Callinan, and his right-hand man, David Taylor, engaged in a “campaign of calumny” against Sgt McCabe is a most damning of findings.
The judge said there was no credible evidence that Ms O’Sullivan “played any hand, act or part” in any such campaign.
And in relation to the media, Mr Justice Charleton found that “no newspaper or media outlet ever traduced the character” of Sgt McCabe as a result of the campaign, or at all for that matter.
The shambolic behaviour within Tusla was so mindboggling that it was understandable why some people believed there was a grand conspiracy, rather than an omnibus cock-up.
But it was Mr Justice Charleton’s general comments on policing that had even wider import.
He raised the warning flag that Mr Justice Frederick Morris had waved after his mammoth examination of policing in Donegal between 2002 and 2008 about a force being “undisciplined” and the risk that posed to the country.
Mr Justice Charleton highlighted nine obligations for gardaí: To take pride in their work; to be honest; to be visible; to be polite; to serve the people and that that obligation should take precedence over sticking up for each other and, as an organisation, self-awareness and self-analysis.
Other reports landed during the year.
Back in February, the Garda Inspectorate published its Responding to Child Sexual Abuse report, a detailed review of a similar study the inspectorate conducted in 2012.
It found “unacceptable delays” in the examination of digital devices in child abuse investigations.
It said 274 (25%) of child protection cases are awaiting examination, including 95 from the period 2011 and 2013.
It said inexperienced gardaí — some “just out of Templemore” — continue to investigate child rape cases, a practice they described as “unacceptable” and one posing a “significant organisational risk”.
The Policing Authority raised concerns about the delayed examination of digital devices for child abuse imagery in a report to the justice minister as well as falls in the detection of assaults and sexual assaults.
Concerns about the quality of Garda statistics — and possibly of garda investigations — rumbled on during the year at the authority.
This included an ongoing lengthy and detailed internal examination of 41 homicide investigations.
There is also a major review completing into the Juvenile Diversion Programme, relating to concerns over the handling of thousands of cases within the last seven years.
Separately, the Irish Examiner reported a significant rise in offences committed by juveniles, including sexual offences, murder threats, aggravated burglaries, robberies and weapons offences.
The appointment of Drew Harris as the new Garda commissioner in early September promised a new era.
He placed protecting the community, and in particular the most vulnerable, to the forefront of his agenda. He made a point to speak at various launches involving domestic violence and sexual violence organisations.
Mr Harris also said one of his first priorities was to get to grips with budgets, specifically the significant overspend on overtime.
One of his first public controversies to deal with was the policing at the North Frederick St repossession, during which both the gardaí and the removal men wore balaclavas or ski masks.
It sparked another internal report and the commissioner rightly predicted there could be more incidents where gardaí would become embroiled in civil matters — seen again recently at the repossession in Strokestown, Co Roscommon.
Shortly after Mr Harris took over, the report of the Policing Commission was published.
The report promises a much greater focus on communities and policing and not just in relation to crime but “harm” — an approach that appears to dovetail with the philosophy of the new commissioner.
It called for a cross-agency approach (in so-called Crisis Intervention Teams) given the range of health, mental health, housing and addiction issues ensnared with criminality.
But such cross-agency approaches have been recommended before and will need political will, increased resources and union/staff association agreement to make it a reality.
It also called for the transfer of non-core policing duties (court and inquest duties, prisoner management, etc) to other agencies and the “tooling up” of frontline members with modern, mobile technology and a greater appreciation of their mental health and support.
Back in May the internal Garda audit found low levels of trust in garda management and a significant “disconnect” between senior leadership and ranks below.
It said frontline gardaí were scared to speak out and for the “basics” to be fixed, such as uniforms, equipment, vehicles and training.
Two of the top four priorities of the Policing Commission — to transfer authority over senior appointments from the authority to the commissioner and establishing the Garda Síochána Board — attracted controversy and concern.
Earlier this month, the courts delivered a hammer blow (though one that has been coming for years) to garda investigatory powers in the Graham Dwyer case.
It found that the legislation upon which gardaí access private communication data breached EU laws — not only placing doubt over convictions and prosecutions, but preventing gardaí from using this power from now on. Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan is considering an appeal.
Just before the Dáil broke, Minister Flanagan published his implementation plan for the Policing Commission report after it secured Cabinet approval.
Launching the document at a briefing with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, he said the Government had accepted the Commission’s recommendations, though some in principal.
The commissioner told the press conference that there were significant obstacles to implementing some of the major recommendations, including the crisis intervention teams and the transfer of non-core duties.
Last Friday week, a 300-page Garda Inspectorate report on policing and communities was published, saying a whole range of tasks (many of them previously recommended) needed to be implemented to improve policing services for local communities. It found community policing numbers have been slashed by 36%, that levels of frontline supervision were a serious concern and that poor performance by some gardaí was a significant issue for colleagues.
The Government’s plan to implement the Policing Commission report, peppered with management speak, promises radical reform over a four-year-term, with most of the key priorities supposed to commence before the end of next year.
A lot, not least Brexit and its ramifications for policing and security, will happen in the meantime and could dominate next year.
Two court cases this year, in which social media played a significant part in accelerating opinion, illustrated increasing public disquiet about the balance and application of judicial procedure.
The Belfast rape trial dominated the first few months of 2018, but its impact rippled throughout the year, and arguably continues.
This was due in no small part to the different laws across the UK.
The four defendants in the case were named from the start — in marked contrast to the Republic, where their names or any identifying information would be hidden.
The four — Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Blane McIlroy, and Rory Harrison — stood trial before the public (again unlike here).
And this was a prosecution in which social media itself was subject to trial, and fed into a legal review here and recommended legal changes in the North.
The inclusion of the public meant that, through social media, the identity of the woman was revealed online and the hashtag #Ibelieveher trended.
The case ran for nine weeks, from January to March.
The case had a deeper impact and interest level, given the celebrity nature of the accused, particularly Jackson and Olding — Irish and Ulster rugby players.
They were accused of rape offences, while Harrison was accused of impeding the police investigation and McIlroy was charged with exposure.
It was a case where the woman, aged 19 at the time of the alleged offence, was cross-examined for eight days, and one in which each of the defendants was cross-examined.
In the end, it took the jury members just shy of four hours to reach their verdicts — not guilty on all counts.
The case had a wider impact because of the language used by the accused in messages on WhatsApp they sent to each other — with commentators saying it provided a disturbing insight into how young men, or certain young men, talk about young women.
There was talk of “spit-roasting” women, questions of did “any sluts get fucked”, girls being “pumped” and “roasted” and the men loving “Belfast sluts”.
Jackson’s bill for the mammoth trial is estimated to run to the €500,000 mark, with Olding’s tab thought to be more than €150,000.
More recently, in an incident first reported by the Irish Examiner and which garnered international attention, a defence solicitor in a rape case asked a jury to consider the underwear the complainant was wearing on the day of the alleged attack.
The 27-year-old man was found not guilty of raping a 17-year-old woman in a laneway in Cork.
At the sitting of the court in Cork, a barrister told jurors they should have regard for the underwear the complainant wore on the night.
“Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone? You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”
The jury of eight men and four women took 90 minutes of deliberation to reach their unanimous not guilty verdict.
The case sparked outrage on social media and led to protests, with TD Ruth Coppinger bringing a thong into the Dáil and holding it up during leaders’ questions, as she raised concerns over the “rape myths” women face after taking an alleged rapist to court. “It might seem incongruous or embarrassing to show a thong in the Dáil, but I do so to highlight how a rape victim feels at her underwear being shown in the incongruous setting of a courtroom. When will the Dáil take serious action on the issue of sexual violence?” she asked.