Gardaí have boosted staffing to its Cyber Crime Bureau to more than 30 members and plan to clear the persistent backlog in the examination of computers in child abuse imagery cases by this time next year.
The development follows another court case involving child abuse imagery in which concerns were raised regarding the delay in examining digital devices.
Brendan Phelan, aged 66, from Merrion Grove, Blackrock, Co Dublin, was given a suspended three-year sentence last week after being caught with nearly 60,000 child abuse images and videos.
Sentencing him in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Martin Nolan said there had been an “unfortunate delay” in bringing the case to court due to a lack of resources in the Garda Computer Crime Investigation Unit (CCIU), which is now part of a new Garda Cyber Crime Bureau (GCCB).
Phelan was only charged last year, even though the raid on his home was conducted in March 2013. When the material was examined four years later, gardaí discovered 58,585 child abuse images and 1,046 movies.
The case is the latest prosecution in which delays regarding the forensic examinations of computers have been commented on by judges and it follows last month’s report by the Garda Inspectorate flagging “unacceptable” delays going back four years.
Garda sources yesterday told the Irish Examiner extra staff had just been allocated to the GCCB following a competition and the strength was now in excess of 30 mem-bers, described as a significant increase on previously.
The inspectorate’s Responding to Child Abuse report said the GCCB, including its predecessor, received digital devices for examination in 1,083 cases between 2010 and 2015.
It said that 274 of these cases remained outstanding, including 60 cases from 2013; 31 from 2012; four from 2011; and three from 2010.
It said that when it visited the GCCB in 2016 that the unit was prioritising cases from 2011 but that “staff reported that they had insufficient resources to clear the backlog”.
Garda sources accepted that delays in the examination of devices continued, but insisted the backlog had been halved since 2011 and that they expected the backlog to be “cleared in early 2019”.
Gardaí have piloted two regional units, in New Ross, Co Wexford, and Ballincollig, Co Cork. Gardaí have also said they intend to develop six regional examination units.
Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin and his senior team are set to be questioned about the inspectorate’s report at the next meeting with the Policing Authority this Thursday.
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