100 extra searches in child image inquiry to be conducted this year

Assistant Commissioner John O'Driscoll.

Up to a hundred more searches are expected to be conducted this year in relation to a major investigation into child abuse imagery, garda bosses have said.

Three further phases are expected to be carried out in 2018 as part of Operation Ketch, which saw 31 searches of homes in 12 garda divisions in its first phase last February.

Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll, who is head of Special Crime Operations, said that “in excess of 100,000 images” were seized two months ago.

He told the Policing Authority this was the first of four phases in an operation by the National Protective Services Bureau and there was no indication “any less searches” would be conducted in the next three phases.

He pointed out that the images have to be examined in detail by the Garda Cyber Crime Bureau. Mr O’Driscoll said “fortunately” none of the children pictured in the imagery seized in February was resident in Ireland.

He was part of a management team, led by acting commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin, who appeared before a public meeting of the Policing Authority yesterday.

This was a special session on children and policing, although the meeting also dealt with the garda report into the policing of the anti-water charge protest in Jobstown in November 2014.

The recent Garda Inspectorate report Responding to Child Sexual Abuse highlighted a range of concerns, including continuing delays in the examination of child abuse imagery.

Mr O’Driscoll said there had been delays of up to six years, but that they have significantly reduced that and expected to clear the backlog by the end of 2019.

The garda team was also questioned about serious issues regarding the Youth Diversion Programme for child offenders following an internal Garda report last year.

The internal audit found a series of problems, including lack of action against an estimated 7,000 juveniles who were not taken into the Youth Diversion Programme and whose cases were referred back to districts for possible prosecution.

Other issues include the timely referral of cases to the Juvenile Liaison Office and referrals getting “stuck”.

Assistant Commissioner Pat Leahy, head of Community Engagement, said that 20,000 cases were being reviewed.

Authority member Judith Gillespie said some of the cases involved “high-risk offences and offenders”. She said that individual officers had not done their job and that potential disciplinary action could arise.

Mr Leahy said this would “not lead to a happy ending” and that there would be “no free passes” for gardaí involved and that divisional officers were going through the cases. He said that where they see a disciplinary investigation was required they were going to “have to conduct that”.

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