Inquiry: Gsoc ‘mistaken’ in launching criminal probe

Gsoc did not have evidence of criminality at the time it launched a criminal investigation in relation to three gardaí, including a sergeant who took his own life, a judicial inquiry has concluded.

Mr Justice Frank Clarke examined the actions of Gsoc officers in their investigation of interactions of three gardaí with Sheena Stewart, aged 33, who died in a fatal road traffic accident at Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, on New Year’s Day, 2015.

On May 28, 2015, Sgt Michael Galvin, a 48-year-old father of three, died by his own actions at Ballyshannon Garda Station, a week after he was interviewed under caution by Gsoc on suspicion of perverting the course of justice and making a false and misleading statement.

A summary of that inquiry was released two years ago and, yesterday, the full 200-page report was published by the Department of Justice.

Headline findings in the detailed report include:

  • Gsoc officers upgraded their initial investigation to a criminal investigation within 30 minutes of gardaí referring Ms Stewart’s death to the watchdog;
  • While there was “a legitimate matter of concern” for Gsoc, it “must have been the case” that, at the time of the decision, the known circumstances did not appear to constitute a criminal offence and the decision was “mistaken”;
  • But the inquiry said the decision by Gsoc officers was taken “bona fide” and that, in light of the lack of clarity in legislation, the inquiry “could not justify” any action being taken against the officers;
  • Gsoc “must first” conduct a sufficiently thorough investigation before launching a criminal investigation;
  • There was a breakdown in communication (by both Gsoc and An Garda Síochána) in informing the three gardaí, including Sgt Galvin, they were under criminal investigation by Gsoc, with Sgt Galvin only learning about it three months later when requested to attend for an interview;
  • The day after the interview, Gsoc investigators recommended no prosecution against Sgt Galvin and a report was sent to its legal department;
  • Although Sgt Galvin took his life a week later, there was “no reality” of him being informed of the recommendation as the file had yet to be considered by the three-person leadership of the commission and had yet to be referred to the DPP for a final decision;
  • Greater care should have been taken to make contact with the family of Sgt Galvin before Gsoc gave details to the media following his suicide;
  • Accepting that “extreme distress” was caused to the family, the inquiry declined against making a specific criticism of Gsoc officers.

The Clarke report said: “Sergeant Michael Galvin was a member of An Garda Síochána of exceptional integrity who was a consummate gentleman and an exemplary sergeant.”

In a statement, Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors’ (AGSI) general secretary John Jacob said the report highlighted “shortcomings in how Gsoc does its business”, including the launching of the criminal investigation, notifying gardaí, communications, and referring cases to the DPP.

The association is seeking a meeting with the chair of Gsoc to discuss the report.

“AGSI is calling on Gsoc to conduct the business of its investigators in a more open and transparent fashion in the future to reduce the anxiety and distress for members under investigation,” the association said.

Gsoc said it had “made a number of changes” in line with the recommendations in the report and had also made proposals to the Department of Justice on relevant legislative issues.

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