Garda child porn forensics unit to get extra staff

The Garda’s Computer Crime Investigation unit has been beefed up with an additional eight forensic examiners in a bid to tackle a significant backlog in processing online child abuse cases.

Recent criticisms in the courts highlighted the insufficient technology and manpower needed to process the equipment seized in such cases — resulting in delays of up to three years. But now eight new forensic examiners are being fast-tracked through training and the purchase of “high-powered” computers has been speeded up to address the backlog.

According to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, Acting Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has initiated a comprehensive review and “strategic realignment” of Garda capacity to deal with crimes of that nature.

“I am advised that this will immediately halt the growth in outstanding cases and begin to address the backlog,” said Ms Fitzgerald. The minister said those measures include:

- New “triage” arrangements “to maximise use of skilled resources, prioritisation of training to ensure a further eight forensic examiners are fully trained and operational by the end of July.

- A new approach to the management of the process which will double the closure rate by the end of the third quarter of 2014.

- Acceleration in investment in high powered computers

- Structures are to be put in place for fast-tracking cases that require early intervention.

“I am further advised that an in-depth review of this approach will be concluded by end 2014 to ensure that the desired increase in output is being delivered,” said the minister.

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, who has been pursuing the issue with the minister in recent months, said the big problem was the IT equipment available to investigators.

“By all accounts the technology has not been updated regularly enough,” he said. “The software programmes used (by producers and viewers of child abuse images) have encryption built in. Therefore, gardaí need to have the most cutting-edge technology. Personal resources are important, but technology is vital.”

Mr Mac Lochlainn referenced a recent case in which a person charged with having images on a “grievous level” did not face prosecution because of a time delay in producing evidence from the accused’s computer.

The Sinn Féin TD said he was hearing of delays of up to three years.

“The international community are improving their levels of co-operation,” he said. “American security is identifying the people responsible here. They have done the work for us. All we have to do is take the computers from the scene of the crime.”

Cork District Court Judge Olann Kelleher recently raised concerns about the delays caused by the volume of investigations into suspected possession of child porn. In one case where IT equipment was seized as part of a probe into suspected child pornography, the computers remained at Garda forensics for four years.

At Castlebar Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Thomas O’Donnell has declared himself “flabbergasted” by the length of delays.

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